assault, transit

Kirsten’s Story

I had gotten onto the 99 B Line at the South Granville stop heading home to Main St at rush hour. Now, as an anxious person I always have had to mentally prepare myself for the discomfort of being packed so tightly onto this route but as a Vancouverite it’s something I’ve learned to deal with.

The bus pulled up to the Heather St. stop and a couple of people got on. As I stood by the doors with my body tightened up as to not touch anyone for consideration of both myself and others, I started to sense a light sensation on the back of my upper thigh. I assumed it was my jacket rubbing against my leg.

It lasted for about 30 seconds before I started to become aware that this sensation couldn’t be made by my jacket. I started to inch my way closer to the pole, assuming I was too close to someone, rubbing against them. As the ride went on I had moved so close to the pole, I was basically hugging it and the pressure of something touching my thighs was becoming more heavy handed and moving upwards.

I didn’t want to admit to myself that I knew what was happening, I didn’t want to believe it. As I became more tense nearing the next stop I suddenly realized, these were hands on my body and he was literally starting to cup his hand to reach my genitals. By this time we were pulling up to the Cambie Skytrain station and with the nearing of escape I felt strong enough to confront who was doing this.

I turned around, but as the doors opened, the man had one last forceful grab before bursting out of the doors. At the shock of the incident I looked around the bus to see if anyone had noticed what had happened. When I turned around I realized that I was pushed up against this pole and there was heaps of space all around me, meaning that while I was in the vacant mindset of going home from work, looking out the window of the bus, I had assumed that the bus was so busy that I permitted myself to believe that I merely needed to move up to create room so that this sensation of someone behind me would go away.

When really the bus hadn’t been that busy and all the people who were sitting would have clearly seen this man slowly becoming more and more confident in his ability to take advantage of me. The crazy thing is that I felt embarrassed, embarrassed that people thought I was willing to take this or I was so absent minded that I just didn’t notice this whole thing happening.

I was embarrassed that I let myself believe that it was anything other then what I knew it was and I was ashamed that I didn’t have the balls to say something to defend myself and to show other women and other men that what was happening wasn’t right. I can’t explain my hesitation other than my panic in reacting taking the better of me and causing me to freeze up.

But I also can’t explain the hesitation of anyone on the bus who could have seen this. I just hope that no one did and that’s the explanation for why no one stood up. I can’t remember much about his appearance other than he had a thin build, was about 5’7 with dark shoulder-length hair. I never caught his face.

I wanted to tell my story so that if any one is ever in this position again they can remember my regret in not having reacted. When I think back about it there was so much I could have done, but I just froze.

All I can say is stand up for yourself and yell, get people’s attention. No one should have to feel helpless in a situation like that.

I've got your back!

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address, app, verbal

Unsolicited Solicits

Sexually harassed at work by a 70-80 year old customer (male) who instructed me to leave my phone number with his card. When I told him I’m married, he said in a faux-whisper that he’ll find ways to get around that.

I've got your back!

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app, street, verbal

Hot, Angry, Frustrated

For the fifth time today, I experienced verbal street harassment. This all took place within three hours after I finished work. I am, needless to say, hot, angry, and frustrated.

In this particular instance, a man leaning casually against a church wall chirped “quiero, quiero,” meaning “I want.”

Not wanting to incite any further notice as I was half a block from home, I walked past him unmoved. I’m am, however, absolutely tired of being disrespected.

I've got your back!

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changing culture, transit

We Saw Something. We Said Something. They Heard Us.

Anne Drennan of the Vancouver Transit Police (VTP) called Shannon Fisher, Hollaback! Vancouver Team Lead, last night to apologize and say that the VTP will have the victim-shaming ads down by the end of the week as train cars return to service yards.

Anne spent the day calling everyone who complained about the ads to apologize for the harmful messaging. The VTP didn’t mean to blame victims, and they genuinely wish to encourage people — victims and bystanders — to report what they see as they feel comfortable and safe.

Anne invited Hollaback! Vancouver to be on a team with other women’s support groups to approve the copy on replacement ads. We said, yes!

Thanks to everyone who saw something and said something. Together we made change. Let’s keep using our voices until street harassment and the culture that supports it is no longer tolerated.

Thank you VTP for being swift and respectful. We’re thankful for the effort of the VTP, the See Something Say Something campaign, and the ways you’re willing to include us to make it as effective as possible. If you see something on transit, say something by texting 87-77-77.

And thanks to Lucia Lorenzi for her most excellent breakdown of what went wrong with these ads and the trickiness of language in her essay Lost in Translation: What The Vancouver Transit Police Advertisement Teaches Us About Language Use.

She finishes her essay with some punchy truth:

“But I cannot say it enough: reporting sexual assault is NOT a victim’s DUTY. It is one option, and it is the absolute right of the survivor to choose whichever option is safest and best for them. It is all too easy for those who have never had to report, or for whom reporting may have been relatively easy and/or offered justice/healing, that it is a simple and necessary task.” 

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changing culture, street

We See Something and We’re Saying Something

ad on pulbic transit with shaming text

“If it doesn’t feel right, then it’s wrong. Not reporting sexual assault is the real shame. Nobody should touch, gesture, or say anything that makes you uncomfortable or unsafe.”

This is the text from a See Something Say Something Campaign, the real-time, easy-to-use, confidential, texting initiative launched in April by the Vancouver transit police. Transit users can report harassment by texting 87-77-77 and police are notified and can investigate as early as the next stop.

This initiative is an important piece in supporting victims, but we hope transit police will reconsider the victim-blaming message sandwiched in their ad.

The volume of submissions to Hollaback! Vancouver and Harassment on Transit show us the importance of solidarity in telling our stories. The real shame in this situation is the harassment happening on Vancouver’s transit system every day.

Fifty-one percent of Canadian women experience some form of physical or sexual assault by the age of 16. Sexual assault is the most underreported crime because of lack of support, perceived gender roles, and the victim-blaming rampant in our culture. Shame related to guilt, loss of power, and humiliation also play a role for those of us who’ve experienced this type of violence.

According to the Translink website, 418 000 people take transit every day. This means every morning this See Something Say Something ad reinforces and normalizes the dehumanizing feelings of self-blame victims of violence already experience. Shaming victims for not reporting harassment implies they hold equal responsibility to perpetrators in prevention. This message is untrue and damaging.

Fifty-eight percent of Canadian women surveyed indicated they don’t feel safe on transit. The culture that allows harassment to be a normal part of our commute also teach us that silence is the safest way to deal with it. This ad piles on even more shame for our silence.

Our colleagues at Hollaback! Ottawa conducted a community forum and survey on harassment on their transit system and developed recommendations. Some that would be great to see in Vancouver:

  • Public education campaigns that clearly identify the issues of street harassment to better equip transit riders to spot issues in progress
  • Public education campaigns that focus on tangible ways for bystanders to safely intervene
  • Public education campaigns that visibly advertise existing services and reporting methods
  • Increased training for drivers, Special Constables, and maintenance staff to respond appropriately to incidents of harassment

Hollaback! Vancouver is one of many organizations in Vancouver available to help increase knowledge around gender-based violence and support efforts to address it. We’d like to see the Vancouver transit police reach out to local resources for feedback and guidance in creating future initiatives and campaigns.

Picture taken by Anoushka Ratnaraja and originally posted on Ms. Magazine.


one comment
address, street, verbal

Nat’s Story

I was waiting for my order in a restaurant on West Broadway. My seat was at a table near the window.

A man walking by stopped and knocked on the window to get my attention. I could barely hear what he was saying, but he was pointing at himself and then at a seat opposite me, as if asking if he could join.

I shook my head and said, “No, sorry.” He continued to point in a “you, me, you, me” fashion and I shook my head again. At this point he was smiling and even though I couldn’t hear most of what he was saying I heard “oh come on, baby”.

I shook my head once again, said “no” and turned away from him. He became angry and started banging on the window so hard it shook. He started to yell, calling me a “bitch” amongst other things. There were people at the restaurant and on the street who were looking at him at this point, so thankfully, he left.

I've got your back!

no comments
transit, verbal

Geo’s Story

I was on the bus coming home from work and sat a couple seats away from 3 intoxicated men. One of them yelled, “Hey, you’re cute! Can I have a hug?”

When I declined, he continued to try to force me into engaging in conversation. When I continued to ignore him, he sat in the seat next to me and put his arm around me which made me feel terribly uncomfortable, so I moved away. When I did this, he yelled, ” You’re not even that cute. I was just trying to be nice. Get over yourself.” He continued to talk to me and said several degrading things towards women.

I've got your back!

no comments
street, verbal

Erin’s Story

I was out for an afternoon, weekend ride on my road bike heading west along Lougheed Highway, slowing for the red light at Lake City Way and Lougheed.

A muscle car with two middle-aged meatheads pulled up slowly beside me in the right hand turning lane, luring, yelling disgusting things, then asked if I needed a ride. I replied “Nope, got my bike”, they persisted saying “Nice ass.” and “You really need to get in the car.” My response was “F*ck off.”

Apparently they didn’t like that, so when the light turned green they sped up very quickly cutting in front of me (very close to my bike), and cut off the line of cars that were waiting at the light. While I was fuming and embarrassed at their comments, I was more angry that they could have caused a serious accident.

It’s quickest route to get down to the greenway, but I no longer ride my bike along Lougheed. These are very Dangerous men.

I've got your back!

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