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'Harrassment on TransLink' website questions public transit safety in Vancouver

DH Vancouver Staff Oct 25, 2013 3:36 pm

A new website started by a pair of SFU students is inviting the public to submit their stories of sexual or gender-based harassment on Metro Vancouver’s public transit system.

Katie Nordgren and Alexa Dredge created the website as part of their third-year gender, sexuality and women’s studies course.

However, it has since become much that. The site is now receiving numerous submissions daily, and its creators hope that the stories shared on the online platform will convince the City of Vancouver and TransLink of the reality and severity of the issue and to take more measures with implementing public safety on transit property.

Nordgren and Dredge are particularly concerned about the safety of women, which has been a major issue in Vancouver with the sharp spike in sexual assaults in the city and on the UBC campus.

According to the website, “self-identified women are overrepresented as recipients of this harassment. We believe that harassment (and, consequently, the ever-present threat of it) has a significant, demonstrably negative impact on the way women and people of other marginalized gender and sexual identities plan and utilize transportation in Metro Vancouver.”

The testimonials submitted are alarming, ranging from groping, unwanted exposure, unwanted attention and advances, as well as grinding against women on crowded buses and trains.

Have you experienced sexual or gender-based harassment the public transit system? Share your story with ‘Harrassment on TransLink’ by email at [email protected]

Unreported incidents are also a major issue: those who have been harassed or assaulted should also report the incident to Transit Police at 604.515.8300. Emergency incidents should always be reported to 9-1-1.

Click here for more information on how to contact the Transit Police and how to report of an incident while onboard a bus, train or ferry.

Buses and SeaBus carry on-board communication systems with Transit Command, and SkyTrain vehicles consist of a yellow strip button above every window that acts as a Passenger Silent Alarm.

Speakerphones to SkyTrain control operators are located next to the doors inside SkyTrain vehicles, and emergency cabinets at each SkyTrain station are equipped with red emergency phones.


A selection of stories found on the website:

The Legend of the Helpful Bystander

I’m 22 and about a week ago I was on the SkyTrain going from 22nd to Joyce. I was sitting quietly in the middle row when two guys started harassing me. They were making crude remarks and trying to touch me. I was really freaking out and starting to get a little scared when another passenger (who had been sitting quietly & reading in a single seat section) looked up and came over to me and the two guys. He also looked to be in his mid-twenties and I thought he knew the two harassers and started to get a little more scared. Instead, he looked at me and said in an Irish accent, Would you like to have my seat? I jumped at the chance and moved to the more out of the way seat where the guys couldn’t sit beside me. He then stood about a seat in front of me, blocking access to me and carried on reading his book. He got some abuse from the two idiots which he answered with a smile and a polite response (There was something about the way he spoke though, a don’t mess with me vibe). He stayed that way until my stop and never took his eyes off the two guys when I got out. I thanked him as I passed and he smiled, just said “safe home now” and gave a nod. I haven’t seen him since but knowing that there are people out there whom will stick up for a stranger makes me feel a little better about using Translink.


Gay Bashing (19/male)

One day after work around midnight I, a gay man, was sitting on a bench at the 29th station bus loop. I was around 19 but looked much younger. Before I sat down I picked up an Xtra West newspaper (gay news paper) and sat down and started to read it. I noticed a man in his early 20′s standing around who saw me do this but didn’t think anything of it. Later I over heard him make a call to his buddy. He said into the phone, “Hey do you want to beat up a gay?” Though I heard this it didn’t really register, either I thought I might have heard it wrong or for some reason it didn’t click that he was talking about me. Later on a second man meets the first one and they both approach me. I am alone on the bench and it had very little lighting so I was pretty much in the dark. They repeatedly ask me if I have any weed and I keep saying no until the first man points to my right and says, “What’s that?” When I start to turn my head he starts to repeatedly punch my face. After a few hits he grabs my bag and starts to run so I chase them and he lets me take my bag back. If it was just about robbing me they wouldn’t have given me my bag back and probably asked me for my wallet. I dialed 911. The operator was disinterested and curt. So was the officer that came by, he cut me off mid sentence when my bus came and told me to get home. I know it wasn’t the crime of the century but a little empathy on their end might have been nice, this being the first altercation I’ve experienced. I ended up with cuts on the inside of my mouth where the punching pushed the inside of my mouth against my teeth that turned into sores making it hard to eat for weeks, split lip, and a nice big bruise on my face. I don’t read the Xtra West in public anymore.

Another time I was on the Skytrain with a few friends of mine, who are also queer. We were having a good time talking when I notice two guys in their late 20′s to early 30′s really paying attention to our conversation. One of the men said in a low tone, “You guys are a bunch of freaks” and “Makes me sick”. I think he may have said other things but he was saying them quietly which was weird and creepy. I didn’t let on that I heard because I didn’t want to escalate the situation. We left and they left. Glad nothing happened.


A Smorgasbord of Shame (f/multiple ages)

There were so many disturbing things that happened to me on buses and SkyTrain between the ages of 13 and 22, in the 1990s and 2000s when I commuted to high school and then to university, that they’ve sort of all blurred together. Some of the harassment, I realize now, was assault. But when no one sees it… when you feel embarrassed… when you’re not even sure it is really happening (how could it?)… and when you try to get help or report it and no one cares… How do you get justice? How do you heal? How do you make it stop, for you and for others?

Here are some of the incidents that happened to me:

I remember being 13 and having a 40-something man on the Expo SkyTrain line strike up an ‘innocent’ conversation and then asking me where I was getting off. Scott Road, I said. “Can I watch?” he said. I didn’t understand the question until he left some minutes later, and I felt sick and angry.

Some time after that, when I was still 13, there was a man who would drive up to the bus stop where I had to make a transfer at the same time most afternoons. He kept trying to offer me a ride, and did this on several occasions. One time after I got on the bus, I saw that he was following right behind the bus. I think I tried to tell the driver, who either didn’t understand my problem or didn’t care that I was afraid. The police weren’t called, in any case. I stayed on the bus past my stop and went to the end of the line – a busy exchange – and rode it back to where I needed to go, making sure I wasn’t being followed. I probably changed routes after that. I can’t remember much now, other than vaguely what the man following me looked like, and the fear I felt, and that the bus driver didn’t help me.

I remember being 14 on a crowded Granville Street electric bus and being pressed-in as I stood, reaching for the bar above my head. Everyone was being bumped about by the road vibrations, but I became aware that the tall, older man behind me was mostly moving up and down, as something hard seemed to be pressed up against my buttocks. I froze. I couldn’t say anything. I think I left the bus at the next stop. I can’t even remember.

I blamed some of those experiences on the fact that I had to wear a school uniform in high school, which I felt made me more of a target. Even then, I was aware that school-girl uniforms were a ‘fetish’ focus, even if I didn’t know the word fetish. But the experiences of feeling targeted and being followed, touched or harassed didn’t end after high school graduation.

I remember being 19, in university, and taking a bus to visit my boyfriend who was living in Burnaby. I was wearing a skirt, sitting on one of the two-seat forward-facing rows near the back of the bus. Some 20- or 30-something man came and sat beside me, and his fingers wandered over to the side of my exposed thigh. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and shuffled over closer to the window. He adjusted as well, and his fingers were brushing the side of my thigh again. I shuffled over again, he adjusted and touched my thigh, again. I tried to use what I knew of “being assertive” to tell him, in a low, loud dog-obedience voice that the other passengers would hear, to stop touching my thigh and to move. He immediately got incredibly aggressive and verbally abusive and stormed off the bus, which was stopped at a timing point, as he shouted at me and called me terrible names. I absolutely lost my temper at that point, and yelled every vile thing I could think of back at him, through the open window at the back of the bus. Shaking, I went up to the bus driver to apologize for yelling and to explain what just happened. He only said, “Oh, I thought you were having a lovers’ spat.” He did not offer any kind of assistance, reassurance, or courses of action such as calling the police. No one on the bus said anything supportive to me either.

When I was 22 or so, I was taking the bus to get from Burnaby/East Van to Kitsilano for a birthday party at a restaurant. I was sitting near the front of the almost-empty bus — as I always try to do now — and became aware out of the corner of my eye after blocks and blocks and blocks down Hastings that the same car was beside the bus in the left lane. I looked over and all I could see was a pink erect penis… Then my focus zoomed out and I saw the rest of the man who was driving, looking over at me, stroking his naked penis, and mouthing words at me. There was no one else near me on the bus. I memorized the licence plate and I marched over to the bus driver to tell him what was happening, and all he said was, “Huh. I was wondering why that car was keeping pace with the bus for so long.” I told the bus driver to call it in, to get the police to come meet the bus at Burrard Station so I could report it, and he refused. The driver who had been exposing himself to me had sped off by that point. This was before everyone had cell phones all the time, and there was nothing I could do for the next 30 minutes until I got to the restaurant in Kitsilano where the party was, and I used the payphone there. The police didn’t care. They took the report, but said it would be impossible to prove that the owner of the car was the one driving it.

Image: Max Lindenthaler / Shutterstock

DH Vancouver Staff
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