“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.