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!

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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!

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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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street, verbal

Toby’s Story

I got yelled at from a car full of young guys stopped in traffic on the bridge heading to Kitsilano.

I had nowhere to go and the traffic wasn’t moving, so I kept walking with my head down. The man in the passenger seat hollered at me repeatedly, along with his friends in the back seats. The usual fare, “hey baby want a ride?” I started walking faster down the bridge, as they followed me.

This went on for about 5 minutes, but it felt like hours. Finally, when traffic started moving again, the man in the front passenger seat gave up and screamed “bitch!” and threw his full cup of coke at me as they sped past and down the bridge.

I've got your back!

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app, street, verbal

App Submission

A man yelled “Yeah bitch, I see you!” when I was out for a run.


I've got your back!

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address, assault

Erin’s Story

I went to a party at the Pit, and had to stay at an acquaintance’s dorm with one of my female friends. She left with a roommate and I was stuck sleeping in the common room.

One of the roommates kept coming out of his room and trying to feel me up and get me to go to bed with him. I kept telling him to f-off, and finally had to ask one of the other male roommates to sleep in the same bed with him for protection.

The creepy roommate snuck into the room where I was sleeping and started to feel up my leg. I told the guy who let me sleep in his bed that his roommate was in there feeling me up. He told the guy to get out and locked the door.

I've got your back!

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