Lost in Transit
It was a busy morning in December 2017 as a woman boarded the London Underground's Central Line service. While she was on the train, Malcolm Schwartz, 19, also boarded. He approached her and exposed himself, pressing into her.
The next month, Schwartz boarded the Underground again and assaulted two women, touching and pressing himself against them inappropriately. Later in January, Schwartz once again rode the Underground and stood closely behind a woman, touching her inappropriately as the train traveled through London.
All four women reported their experiences to the police, and the British Transport Police's Sexual Offences Unit was able to use their reports to trace Schwartz. He was apprehended and pleaded guilty to four counts of sexual assault.
"Schwartz's behavior was perverse," said DC Thomas O'Regan from the police's Sexual Offences Unit in a press release. "Over a two-month period of time, he traveled on busy Central Line trains assaulting women for his own sexual gratification. His conduct was outrageous, and I am pleased we were able to catch him."
As part of the punishment for his crimes, Schwartz is now banned from using the London Underground and Docklands Light Railway network and prohibited from sitting next to women traveling alone that he does not know.
"This complex case demonstrates the true value in reporting unwanted sexual behavior to police," O'Regan said. "The victims each provided us with clear accounts of what happened, enabling us to clearly identify Schwartz as the perpetrator. Reports such as theirs help us catch offenders and ensure that justice is delivered."
But just a few years earlier, those reports might not have been made. A 2013 survey by Transport for London (TfL)—London's transit authority—found that one in 10 of its customers experienced unwanted sexual behavior while using the system. Yet, 90 percent of those individuals did not report the incidents to the police.
TfL's findings mirrored a wider trend in transit security—that unwanted sexual behavior is pervasive, and few victims ever report the incidents to the authorities. These incidents can also act as barriers for women who want to use public transit but feel unsafe doing so.
"The lack of personal security, or the inability to use public transport without the fear of being victimized—whether on public transport, walking to or from a transit facility or stop, or waiting at a bus, transit stop, or station platform—can substantially decrease the attractiveness and thus the use of public transit," according to the Global Mobility Report, published by the World Bank partnership Sustainable Mobility for All in 2017.
Security Management took a look at how two major transportation systems are addressing sexual harassment and unwanted sexual behavior in their systems in an effort to increase reporting and catch perpetrators.
The London Approach
TfL is responsible for the daily operations of London's transportation network and managing London's main roads. Its system includes the London Underground, London Buses, Docklands Light Railway, London Overground, TfL Rail, London Trams, London River Services, London Dial-a-Ride, Victoria Coach Station, Santander Cycles, and the Emirates Air Line.
The system serves more than 8.8 million people, according to its most recent annual report, with 31 million services provided. It has more than 12,000 CCTV cameras and 3,000 officers from the British Transport Police and Metropolitan Police Service that are dedicated to policing its network to keep customers safe.
Additionally, its frontline police officers and TfL on-street enforcement officers have received training and briefing on tackling unwanted sexual behavior on public transportation.
Senior Operational Policy Manager of Compliance, Policing, and On-Street Services Mandy McGregor says TfL knew that sexual offences were widely underreported in society in general and thought this might also be the case for public transportation in London.
In 2013, Tfl conducted its first safety and security survey, which asked people if they had experienced unwanted sexual behavior in the past and if they reported it. Unwanted sexual behavior included staring, groping, rubbing, masturbating, ejaculating, flashing, and taking up-skirt photos with covert cameras.
"Unwanted sexual behavior is anything that makes you uncomfortable," McGregor says. "You don't have to prove that it was a criminal offense or intentional to report it, we can investigate that for you."
After the survey was conducted and analyzed, TfL found that one in 10 people had experienced unwanted sexual behavior, but of those victims 90 percent did not report it to authorities.
To better understand why people weren't reporting these incidents, TfL conducted further research into the survey and discovered four main barriers to reporting.
The first was normalization, McGregor says, explaining that "some of these behaviors have become so prevalent in society that they have become normalized and are often seen as a social nuisance rather than a more serious problem."
The second barrier was internalization, a coping mechanism that can be used both in the moment and after an incident occurs.
"The experience is unpleasant, but threat of escalation often means that people don't respond in the moment; they either ignore it or pretend not to hear it," she explains.
The other barriers were lack of awareness of the reporting process and a lack of credibility, McGregor says.
"Very few people believed that reporting an unwanted sexual behavior will result in justice, as they perceived there to be a low chance of the perpetrator being caught," she explains.
Using these insights, TfL crafted a campaign designed to overcome these barriers to reporting by showing that reports matter and will be investigated. The campaign, called "Report it to Stop it," was rolled out on posters, social media, videos, and case studies. It encourages people to report instances of unwanted sexual behavior on public transport through a variety of means, including calling a dedicated criminal reporting line, texting 61016, or speaking directly to a police officer or TfL staff.
Since its release in April 2015, the campaign films and case studies have been watched more than 35 million times on YouTube. McGregor says the campaign has also reached young people through educational sessions in schools and universities.
"In its first year in the market, the campaign had a 59 percent recognition rate amongst its target audience and 64 percent of people agree that they are likely to consider reporting," she adds.
Since the campaign was implemented, TfL has seen a "significant increase" in reports of unwanted sexual behavior in the system. For instance, roughly one year after the campaign was released, TfL saw a 36 percent increase in the number of reported instances.
"Between April and December 2015, 1,603 reports were made to the police, compared to 1,117 in the same period in 2014," TfL said in a press release. "These reports resulted in a 40 percent increase in arrests for offenses, including rubbing, groping, masturbation, leering, sexual comments, indecent acts, or the taking of photographs without consent."
"It's also helped trigger a national dialogue on sexual harassment—raising awareness that unwanted sexual behavior should never be accepted as part of the everyday lives of women and girls," McGregor says.
TfL continues to use the "Report it to Stop it" campaign, which McGregor says will continue to evolve until TfL feels that unwanted sexual behavior has been "stamped out" of the network.
"Every report the police receive helps to build a picture of the offender, so they can be caught and brought to justice," she explains. "Since we launched the 'Report it to Stop it' campaign, we've seen a large increase in the number of people feeling confident to report and, in turn, higher numbers of reports, arrests, and conviction rates."
The D.C. Approach
In 1976, an interstate compact created the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) to develop a regional transportation system that would serve the Washington, D.C., area.
Metro now has 91 stations across 117 miles of track, and 1,500 Metrobuses that serve a population of approximately 4 million people in a 1,500-square mile jurisdiction spread across Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.
Metro also has a sworn police force that investigates crimes, including sexual harassment, that occur on the transit system. Personnel are aided by a robust camera system. Transit police and frontline staff receive special training to handle reports of sexual harassment in the system.
"Frontline employees are the ones that interact most with the customers, and typically if an officer is not around, we encourage people to report an incident to a Metro employee," says Sherri Ly, spokesperson for Metro. "It's important that our frontline employees also have that training and understanding, when they are dealing with customers reporting incidents of harassment."
In 2015, Metro—like TfL before it—began to suspect that instances of sexual harassment were underreported on its system. To assess the situation, it partnered with Collective Action DC and Stop Street Harassment to conduct its first comprehensive transit safety survey.
Metro wanted to find out "how do reports of harassment on our system compare to other public transportation?" Ly says. "And what we found was that it's comparable to what we see nationwide."
Through the effort, Metro found that roughly 20 percent of surveyed people had experienced sexual harassment on public transportation—women were three times more likely than men to experience sexual harassment. Of those incidents, 77 percent of people never reported them.
Metro also found that 41 percent of survey participants were familiar with its antiharassment awareness campaign at the time. Those who were familiar with it were twice as likely to report an incident of harassment.
Taking these findings into account, Metro once again partnered with Collective Action DC and Stop Street Harassment to create a new sexual harassment awareness campaign for its system. The new campaign uses the slogans "You have a right to speak up" and "You deserve to be treated with respect."
The idea behind the campaign is that everyone who rides Metro deserves to be treated with respect, Ly says. "And we want people to know that anyone who feels that they've been the victim of harassment should report that incident."
The campaign also features a diverse group of individuals, designed to reflect Metro's diverse ridership—men, women, and members of the LGBTQ community, from various ethnic backgrounds.
"We wanted to be inclusive," Ly explains. "Harassment doesn't just impact one race, one gender. Everyone, regardless of what your background is, deserves to ride the system and be treated with respect."
In addition to creating a new awareness campaign, Metro also created the option for individuals to report sexual harassment incidents and remain anonymous.
"With harassment and sexual harassment, a lot of times people might be uncomfortable reporting those and having to give their name, so this is a way for someone who wants to remain anonymous to report through our portal, and we will still investigate those claims," Ly adds.
Individuals can now report incidents via Metro's Web portal, email, text, or in person at a Metro station to any frontline employee or police officer.
Following the rollout of the campaign in 2017, Ly says Metro has seen an increase in the number of sexual harassment incidents reported. There were 61 reported incidents to its sexual harassment portals in 2017, compared to just 37 the previous year, according to Metro's Semi-Annual Security Report. Of those incidents, 34 were harassment, 16 were criminal nonsexual incidents, and 11 criminal incidents—down from 16 in 2016.
"We think it's a good thing that we are seeing more and more people reporting, but at the same time you're seeing the number of incidents that rise to the level of criminal declining because we're also sending a message to those that might think about doing some like this that it's not okay," Ly says. "We're putting them on notice—that we take these things seriously, and that if a crime has occurred, we will investigate and hopefully find the person responsible."