I have been wanting to share this for a long time, but was not sure if it was a good idea. Then I couldn’t hold it in anymore.
I am a skytrain attendant. I am also a woman. I have followed your project on and off since I heard about it and there are a few things I would like to share.
Apart from the obvious, which is that these stories are utterly horrendous and that it takes great courage to tell them, there are some things that are not as obvious. One is that skytrain attendants are also constantly fielding sexual abuse. I remember when I started working this job many years ago… I was prepared to help other people when they pushed the alarm on the train, but I was completely unprepared for the number of times I was going to feel unsafe at work because a man threatened me, propositioned me, or worse.
Without getting into the specific comments, I have been assaulted, I have been threatened both with sexual and non-sexual violence, and I have been sexually harassed. Actually, almost every night I am at work, I am sexually harassed, and the language is usually graphic and vulgar. The worst part is that it happens to all the female staff. And you can’t really stand up for yourself because you’re in uniform and to tell the person to piss off could provoke an assault, which you could get in trouble for. So you just have to stand there and let it happen. Or you can walk away, but then you could get in trouble for not being visible.
The other thing I want these women (and men) to know is that skytrain attendants are not security personnel. If someone pushes the alarm on the train, there is one attendant at every station and we will come to help, but we are not armed, we are not allowed to physically remove anyone from the train, we are not allowed to prevent people from boarding. Our job is to answer questions, give directions, drive trains and liaise with transit police. Many nights working alone in our stations, we are as afraid as you are.
I understand that not everyone likes the transit police, but most of them do a fantastic job. They have launched several campaigns against sexual harassment/assault, they have launched the app and the text line. They are trying very hard to make it clear to people that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable. Many times when people get the courage to report something, the transit police will push the issue with the court, but often, their hands are tied because of the legal system. I have a huge amount of respect for them and they make our system and my job safer. As a police force, this is an issue of great importance to them and they are working on ways to stop sexual assault/harassment.
If this is posted, I don’t want people to read it and think, “Oh, there’s no point in pushing the alarm if I am sexually harassed/assaulted” because every time I have personally responded to these alarms, I have not brushed it off by saying, “Oh well, he left the station.” I have called the transit police and they have shown up and taken it seriously too. The more we share our stories, the more people will see how common this is, the more people will take a stand against it, and the less acceptable it will become.