MENU

Moving Forward: Women’s Safety in Public Transit



12
889
8

Did you know that…

“Females ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.”

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)
An infographic made by me using Logojoy

Driving Question:

How does the issue of safety affect women using public transportation in Vancouver & what measures can be taken to improve this level of safety and security?


Introduction:

As a young woman living in Vancouver, I often take public transit to get around the city. However, as I am growing up and my curfew is extending, I am staying out later and seeing the way I get around my community in a different light. Instead of bussing home, like I normally do and can do during the day, I call a cab. And it’s not because I like the comfy seats in the yellow taxis or that I like the music the driver plays on the radio, but rather because it is the only way that I feel safe getting home. After talking about this with my friends and the other girls in my high school, I have realized that this is not the case just for me but for the majority of the young women I know. Through taking Gender Studies in an environment like GOA, I have fostered a certain curiosity and understanding that gender inequality not just a term embedded in New York Times articles or something that is only prevalent in developing countries, but is a major issue that exists right in my own community. And I chose to target gender inequality by focusing specifically on women’s safety with regards to the Vancouver Public Transit system.

Solving such a massive flaw in society, the maltreatment of women, is undeniably not something that can be dealt with on a large scale with regards to one project by one high school student. Because the idea of gender equality and women’s rights is rooted in historical contexts and the fundamental pillars of society, changing it is extremely hard to do as one person. However, when addressing a large issue, the first step is increasing awareness. The fifth UN Sustainable development goal is about gender inequality, an that is the specific goal that I am targeting with this project. Through my work, I hope to raise awareness about the issues women face when taking public transit, as well as go about increasing women’s awareness on the resources there to help them feel more secure. Finally, I hope to educate and share with young girls like me that they are not alone in their feelings of concern when taking the bus or sky train, and that in fact, we can all relate, in one way or another, to one another’s experiences and fears.


A Note From Me:


Background:

Going into the Gender Studies course offered by Global Online Academy, there was so much I did not know. But over the course of the past four months, I have been challenged, encouraged, and supported to extend my realm of knowledge in this subject. For those of you who do not know what Gender Studies is, I will start at the very beginning. Gender Studies is the school of thought that delves into the interaction between one’s sense of self, one’s sense of their gender, as well as the way in which their community views gender identity and how this personally affects an individual. Social contexts can have a major effect on the way that one represents themselves to the outside world. Furthermore, Gender Studies discusses the challenges that non-conforming, or individuals who do not necessarily adhere to societal expectations or norms, face, as well as solutions for how globally and individually, we can go about supporting and creating environments of acceptance and empathy for all people. In my Gender Studies class, we focused largely on feminism and feminist theory and I decided to explore this further by focusing on sexual assault and sexual harassment that women frequently face. But why must women face these things? Why is discomfort and victimization a regular part of a woman’s life? Though this question would take a long time to answer, it is based on one thing: the patriarchal and prejudicial society that has existed longer than the lifetime of any living woman today. So how do we go about changing society? Where would we even start? Although these are daunting questions, it all starts by speaking up, speaking loud, and speaking proud.

It is important to note the different levels of discrimination that may occur for individual women, depending on their situations. For example, the theory of intersectionality, which is the interaction and interplay of various forms of marginalization regarding one’s identity that contribute to one’s overall experienced discrimination, was a major component of our course. This theory worked to intertwine the different kinds of marginalization that individuals faced, such as race, sexuality, and socioeconomic status, and relay that information to the ways in which people were prejudiced. For example, a black, lesbian woman may face different treatment than a straight white woman, and it is important to recognize that although both are women, there are also other contributing factors that determine the way they are treated by society.

One’s culture and the way that culture views women will also determine their feelings of safety when going about that particular society. According to a report published by the Asian Development Bank on women’s safety, titled “Policy Brief: A Safe Public Transportation Environment For Women And Girls,” 69% of women had at one point in their lives experienced sexual harassment on the subway. This statistic is in relation to women living in countries Azerbaijan, Pakistan, and Georgia. Therefore, it is extremely pivotal to question what these numbers would look like had this report been questioning women living in different nations which each have their own set of values and attitudes towards women.

When conducting my research, I also came across some thought-provoking sources which brought up possible solutions for women’s safety regarding transportation. One paper, titled “Women-Only Transportation: How Pink Public Transportation Changes Public Perception of Women’s Mobility,” written by Amy Dunckel-Graglia, brought up an interesting safety measure that was implemented in Mexico in 2000: the concept of “Pink Transportation,” which is a term that describes the women only transportation system that is seen in nations such as Mexico. This means that there are certain carriages of trains that are reserved for women, as well as young children. Although this may solve some of the original safety issues and reports of violence against women decreased, a new problem ensued: what message does Pink Transportation give off? In some ways, it makes women assume the role as helpless victims who are delicate and need state protection, which although is true to some extent, can also be problematic. As well, toxic masculinity (a form of masculinity where males over-establish their dominance through the use of provocative language, the degradation of women, or competition amongst other males) is further solidified, which can be harmful against male’s perceptions of themselves. Rather, we must teach young boys the importance of consent, respect, and trust from a young age and until sexual assault is no longer as prevalent of an issue, there are safety measures we can implement to improve a woman’s sense of security while travelling throughout her city. I would also like to note however, that although this project focuses on women’s safety, men can also be victims of sexual assault and women can be perpetrators of such crimes.

All in all, promoting the importance of respect will hopefully establish a society where one day, we can all peacefully, respectfully, and safely coexist. Thank you so much for visiting my page!

(Moreno, Carolina. “Why Women In Mexico City Have Separate Subway Cars.” HuffPost Canada, HuffPost Canada, 10 May 2016, www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/mexico-citys-subway-is-so-unsafe-for-women-they-need-their-own-pink-cars_n_5731f236e4b096e9f0929bd2.)

(“POLICY BRIEF: A SAFE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION ENVIRONMENT FOR WOMEN AND GIRLS.” Asian Development Bank, 2015.)

An example of a pink bus in Dubai!

(Mimi Kirk @msmimikirk Feed Mimi Kirk, and CityLab. “The Gray Area in ‘Pink’ Transportation.” CityLab, 5 May 2014, www.citylab.com/transportation/2014/05/gray-area-pink-transportation/9030/.)

Survey:

I created a survey that I sent to my friends and who then sent to their friends of roughly 20 questions regarding their personal feelings of safety when using Vancouver transit. Roughly 70 girls, between the ages of 14 and 19, responded. Find the results by clicking on the link below:

*Note that this is just one sample of a larger population of young women living in Canada, as well as within a global context

Some Experiences/Stories that Were Shared:

“I’ve been filmed by a man who then followed me off, I have also been verbally assaulted by a man who followed my friends and I off the bus. I have also experienced numerous occasions of men trying to talk to me and follow me around after as well as on the bus.”

“Multiple occasions where men stare and look up my skirt or just won’t look away.”

“It was dark out and the bus consisted of an older looking man and I only. He chose to sit very close to me although there were many seats available.”

“There were these two guys trying to chat me and my older sister up at the bus stop we were on our way to a party and we kept to ourselves not responding to the two men. When they got on the bus they sat beside us. They were getting very close, definitely invading the personal space bubble. We were nervous but we didn’t move because we didn’t want the situation to escalate. Luckily they got off the bus before us but it was a very uncomfortable situation.”

“One time a woman yelled at me for an hour on the bus, one time someone had a gun and the police were called…”

“One time a guy with anger issues got on the bus and me and most of the girls on the bus got off at the next stop because of this.”

“Someone catcalled me.”

“a man who was clearly on something was stumbling around the bus and yelling and swearing at people. He made eye contact with me and called me a b**ch and said that the world is going to sh** because of people like me.”

“Older men have tried to have a conversation with me and ask personal questions, and one time a guy wouldn’t stop touching me.”

Some General Comments I Received at the End of the Survey:

“In the past other people taking the bus have been very helpful and have looked out for me. I feel much more comfortable when the bus is full due to this but when it is empty and there is someone I am wary of I get off and wait for another bus.”

“… we need to do what we can about this as female youth of now and the future.”

“I feel that because of the amazing steps we have taken towards equality, people have started to say that women cannot complain anymore about gender inequality because women and men are equal, but clearly, because of such instances, it’s obvious that we’re not.”


What sort of treatment/harassment would warrant calling transit police? What sort of behaviors tend to make women feel uncomfortable in public spaces?

  • Inappropriate, derogatory and threatening comments
  • A person’s lack of spacial awareness (someone sitting too close for comfort and refusing to move after asking them to)
  • Unwanted touching
  • Someone following you

What are some barriers to creating a more safe/comfortable riding environment?

  • The bystander effect (“someone else will help her; it’s not my job”)
  • Funding & resources (adding more security guards would cost $ that the Vancouver Transit Police may not have)
  • The widespread and numerous locations where transit operates makes it hard to regulate safety in all of these areas

We Are So Much More Than Statistics: A Follow Up Interview

After conducting my survey and data, I was going through my results and a thought occurred to me. Behind every statistic and every number that I looked through in my data analysis, there was a girl with a story. With this in mind, I got together some of my close friends and asked if they would be interested in being interviewed for this project. I gave them a series of questions to answer and reflect on and this is what they shared:

Hearing my friends’ stories, I am even more inspired to create a safe environment for them, and all of the other women living in Vancouver. Seeing their faces and hearing them speak about such a challenging topic has such a powerful impact. I am so proud of them for voicing their individual experiences!


Map

A Guide to Women’s Safety in Vancouver, BC

  • Red Pointers = Facilities that Women Can Seek Refuge/Report Assault
  • Yellow Pointers = Sexual Assault Cases Where Attacker Was Charged
  • Purple Pointers = Sexual Assault Cases Where Attacker Wasn’t Found

*Note that these incidents are just a handful of recent cases (within the last 3 years) and that there are many more reports of sexual assault throughout the city (Also, many cases go unreported)

(“Vancouver Police Seek Good Samaritan Who Helped Sexual Assault Victim on Main Street.” Georgia Straight Vancouver’s News & Entertainment Weekly, 27 Dec. 2018, www.straight.com/news/1180741/vancouver-police-seek-good-samaritan-who-helped-sexual-assault-victim-main-street.)

(Police, Transit. “Metro Vancouver Transit Police Seek SkyTrain Sexual Assaulter.” Vancouver Sun, 3 Feb. 2018, vancouversun.com/news/crime/metro-vancouver-transit-police-seek-skytrain-sexual-assault-suspect.)

“Larsen, Karin, and Jason Proctor. “6 Charged in Series of Lower Mainland Sex Assaults and Stranger Attacks | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 11 May 2016, www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/6-charged-in-series-of-lower-mainland-sex-assaults-and-stranger-attacks-1.3577292.”

(CTV Vancouver. “Sex Assault Leaves East Vancouver Residents on Edge.” British Columbia, CTV News, 1 Dec. 2018, bc.ctvnews.ca/sex-assault-leaves-east-vancouver-residents-on-edge-1.4200219.)


Safety Tips & Tricks: An Instructional Video

Check out the video below for some of my own advice on how we can stay safe when using transit & walking alone!

  • Only put 1 earphone in when walking alone
  • Carry a whistle with you if you need to get people’s attention
  • Carry a small alarm tool with you (with a flashlight if your phone dies in the dark!) which you can buy on amazon for roughly $10! The SABRE brand is the one that I use and I would highly recommend!
  • Carry your keys (put them between your fingers for a makeshift defence weapon, can also throw them or use them to get people’s attention)
  • Be careful on social media (Snap Maps can be helpful so others know where you are, but can also be dangerous if your location gets in the wrong hands. Find My Friends is a good app that lets trusted individuals track your location and you track theirs)
  • Uber: set up the safety settings when going about your city so that a trusted parent or friend will be notified about your trips and your arrivals
  • Check out the App Store for more safety apps that can easily be downloaded onto your phone!
  • Low ponytail/bun when running or walking (harder to grab)
  • Parking garages: get a security guard to walk down with you to your car. If you notice a van parked beside your drivers seat, crawl through the passenger seat into your car. Do NOT go towards a flat tire in an isolated space; go back to where you were and call for assistance (do NOT take assistance from anyone who offers you help down in the garage itself)
  • Check in and under your car before getting in it
  • If someone is in your car and you don’t notice until they threaten you with a weapon and tell you to drive, drive to a public area and deliberately crash the car (without hurting bystanders of course) Then, run and get help.

Playlist

FOR WOMEN BY WOMEN: An original playlist that is an accumulation of songs written about women’s empowerment (AND all the artists are women themselves!)


Who to Follow: A Call to Action

Chessy Prout

Chessy Prout is a survivor of sexual assault and recently wrote a novel about her experience, focusing on the importance of teaching the concept of consent from a young age. For more information or to get in contact with her and her movement, click here

(“Ihavetherightto. “Contact.” Ihavetherightto, www.ihavetherightto.org/pages/contact.”)

Tarana Burke

Tarana Burke is the founder of the globally recognized Me Too movement, which she began back in 2006 after listening to a young black girl recount her experience with sexual abuse. She promoted the well being of young women of colour at her organization called “Just Be Inc.” which is where she heard this young girl’s account and where the Me Too movement originated from. Currently, she is the senior director of Girls for Gender Equity, which is located in New York. Follow her on twitter at @TaranaBurke

(Worthen, Meredith. “Tarana Burke.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 10 Apr. 2019, www.biography.com/people/tarana-burke.)

Rupi Kaur

A world renowned modern artist and poet, Rupi Kaur uses her art forms to advocate for many different causes, one of which is the issue of sexual assault and domestic abuse, both of which personally resonate with Kaur. Visit her website here or follow her on Instagram @rupikaur_

(“Spotlight on Poet Rupi Kaur.” Tory Burch: Tory Daily, 30 July 18AD.)

Shonda Rhimes

The creator of various successful TV shows, including How to Get Away With Murder and Grey’s Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes is also an avid feminist and social justice activist, who establishes feminism through her strong female characters and lead roles. Follow her on twitter @ShondaRhimes

(“Shonda Rhimes Calls Emmys ‘Embarrassing’.” DefenderNetwork.com, 21 Sept. 2017, defendernetwork.com/entertainment/shonda-rhimes-calls-emmys-embarrassing/.)

Emma Watson

Best known for her role as Hermione in the Harry Potter series, Emma Watson was also appointed as the Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Gender Equality Subdivision back in 2014. She currently is a well known activist for women’s rights all around the world. Follow her on instagram at @emmawatson

(Madormo, Mary. “The Stunning Transformation of Emma Watson.” TheList.com, The List, 29 Nov. 2018, www.thelist.com/36956/stunning-transformation-emma-watson/.)

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

Social Media

Follow this page on Instagram @movingforwardvancouver

Resources

  • Text Transit Police at 87-77-77
  • Call Transit Police at 604-515-8300
  • In Emergencies, Call 9-1-1

I interviewed the Media Relations Officer of the Vancouver Transit Police, Sgt. Clint Hampton, and here is what we discussed…

What Services/Campaigns the Vancouver Transit Police Offer

(That women do not necessarily know about… )


(“SeeSay Mobile App.” Metro Vancouver Transit Police, 2019.)

(“Safety and Security.” TransLink, www.translink.ca/Rider-Guide/Safety-and-Security.aspx.)

(“Metro Vancouver Transit Police Launch Next Phase of Anti-Sex Offence Campaign.” Metro Vancouver Transit Police, 6 July 2018, transitpolice.ca/news-posts/metro-vancouver-transit-police-launch-next-phase-of-anti-sex-offence-campaign/.)


5 Suggestions I have for the VTP…

  1. Plaster the number of the Transit Police in BIG font all around the city (because although there are posters, girls still do not know the #)
  2. Increase funding for safety & security measures to be taking, such as having a security guard or police officer on the bus (especially late at night)
  3. Install mandatory breathalyzer check points for all people getting onto transit vehicles (if above a certain rate, not allowed to board)
  4. Offer a “Safe Walk” program, such as the ones on university campuses, where women can call a number and someone will be dispatched to them from the transit police and walk them to their destination from their bus stop or sky train station
  5. Put safety buttons underneath the seats on buses that will alert and notify the transit police if someone is feeling unsafe. The bus driver will also get an alert and the transit police will arrive at the next stop to ensure everything is okay. Same thing goes for skytrains.

5 Suggestions I have for women…

  • To get in contact with the transit police:

text 87-77-77 or call 604-515-8300

  • You are not alone
  • If you see a girl being harassed, help her out and alert the authorities if need be
  • Report any incidents that make you feel unsafe
  • Let’s end the stigma around alerting the authorities or reporting something. You are NOT being dramatic by reporting your safety concerns. You are being proactive, and chances are, the safety concerns you have are also shared with other women. Do not feel as though you are weak or melodramatic by contacting the numbers above. This is a sign of strength.

A Final Reflection

So there you have it: a glimpse into gender inequality and the experiences of those who are affected by it. You now know about how vigilant women must be when going about their own city, even if it has been their home for the past 16 or 17 years. Talking and conversing with those from my own community has taught me that these issues are so much more than words on paper, or links from a google search. People are not statistics or names in news reports; they are our friends, sisters, cousins, aunts, moms, girlfriends, wives. They are us. The gender studies topic of women’s safety affects us all, even men themselves. Although most perpetrators of sexual assault against women are men, it is so important not to paint all men with the same brush. All in all, the first step towards women feeling safe again in their communities is discussing, sharing, and opening up about the very issues that they are trying to hide away from. And men can be allies of women and advocates who vouch for the same things that women want. Truthfully, we need all the people we can get in order to shift society’s treatment of women.

I have hope that one day, our daughters and our granddaughters will be able to go out without having safety apps downloaded on their phone or alarms hanging on their key chains “just in case.” I don’t know how long it will take for this to happen, but I think that due to the amazing and courageous women who have spoken up about their own experiences with sexual assault, we are already well on our way there. But where is it that men learn to adopt predatory nature? Is it genetic or do they gain such mindsets from the environments in which they situate themselves in? And if it is mostly the latter, then how do we create healthy environments for young boys to learn the values and morality that women deserve? Lots of questions and very few answers; however, I truly believe that we will uncover these answers as we go. Until then, stay safe, stay happy, and stay proud of all that makes you the woman that you are.

Works Cited

See here for my list of works cited

“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.”

Carl Jung

Thank you so much!

Share this project
COMMENTS: 12
  1. April 26, 2019 by Claire Reply

    Hi Tess! What an incredible project. While public transport isn’t commonly used in my community, I have often felt unprepared or unsafe when I do use public transport in other places. Thank you so much for not only calling attention to this issue, but also for providing such great ideas to combat it.

  2. April 26, 2019 by Adriana.Castro Colon Reply

    Hi Tess, your project is honestly very captivating. I really enjoy the way you teach us how to be safe and the way you portray a women’s experience in public transportation. I will definitely be showing this to my friends! 🙂

  3. April 27, 2019 by Heather Gadalla Reply

    Hi Tess – you have clearly put a tremendous amount of time and effort into your project, and it is absolutely outstanding. I learned a lot from reading your articles and watching your videos about women’s safety in transit. I also loved how you included so many quotes, statistics, and detailed information like the phone number for the transit police.

  4. April 27, 2019 by rebecca urato Reply

    Tess, this is amazing! You obviously care deeply about this issue and put a lot of time into this project. It is incredibly well formatted and your research/call to action is impeccable. I was really inspired by this! How do you recommend I raise awareness about this issue in my own community?

    • April 28, 2019 by Tess Blake Reply

      Hey Rebecca! Thank you so much for the kind words 🙂
      Honestly – I think that raising awareness begins with having conversations. Talk to your friends about their experiences, share yours if you feel comfortable, and look out for one another. You can even put posters in the women’s washrooms at school or talk to your principal about making an announcement at your next assembly. Starting small is the best way to go!

  5. April 27, 2019 by Sean Kim Reply

    Oh wow! Tess, this project reflects time, energy, and genuine interest! I loved your introduction to gender studies and the theories, but I loved all the resources you put in, like the map and your instructional video! So original and thought provoking. Amazing job!

  6. April 28, 2019 by Alex.Lepa Reply

    Hi Tess,
    Thank you for your project. Your interview with the Sergent was very interesting and really shed light into your topic. Thanks.
    Alex

  7. April 29, 2019 by Maisie French Reply

    Hi Tess! Your project really shows the time and detail you’ve put into this. I love how you gave so many examples of powerful women to follow in your call to action!

  8. April 29, 2019 by Siena.Martin Reply

    Tess, this is by far my favorite project I have seen on the conference this year. Not only did you include helpful videos and infographics, you always provided a call to action and highlighted incredible women already doing great work. You clearly put a lot of time and effort into this project and it shows. As someone who takes public transit to and from school every day, this project hits close to home for me.

  9. April 30, 2019 by Maya Reply

    Hi Tess! I thought that your project was amazing. It is clear that you were very thoughtful and diligent in your work. Your research was amazing and learned a lot about your topic which I had never really studied before. I really resonated with your final reflection and about how this effects everyone, not just women.

  10. May 03, 2019 by Daisy.Huang Reply

    Your project is literally so amazing and utterly deserving of the awards it got. Thank you for not only raising awareness but teaching us how to stay safe and stick up for ourselves.

  11. May 04, 2019 by Ina.Aram Reply

    Wow. This project is awesome – so detailed with a variety of information too. The safety tips were a great touch, as well as your personal stories and such. Fantastic job!

Leave a Comment!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *