Friday, November 18, 2016

Reports of sexual assault on GO Transit low compared to Toronto Transit Commission

by Cindy J. Smith

On October 30, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) released a report about the frequency in which sexual assaults occur on the Toronto transit system. Every three days, passengers file reports about incidents where inappropriate touching or unwanted sexual contact had taken place.

Sexual assaults on public transit are a crime of opportunity for perverts, regardless of gender. Crowded and confined to a bus, subway car or streetcar, assailants press themselves against their victims and grope them. Usually victims of sexual assault don't realize they're being assaulted while traveling on a jam-packed subway car. Objects and body parts being pressed against them seem almost normal considering the crush of bodies jockeying for space. Unfortunately, that's not the truth for what's happening and the problem is worse than TTC officials realized.

The frequency of stops allow these criminals to escape. Many drift through the system undetected and protected by the volume of passenger traffic. They easily take advantage of a system bursting at the seams.

So what's it like on GO Transit?

Although the numbers released to don't reflect incidents reported to police agencies instead of to GO Transit, wrote Anne Marie Aikins, spokesperson for Metrolinx, in an email to this website - the numbers are small for a system that transports 70 million passengers annually:

In 2014, 23 passengers complained of being sexually assaulted while traveling on GO Transit's system. In 2015, 22 passengers filed reports and in 2016, 12 customers have reported being sexually assaulted to date.

But are these numbers realistic?

According to public safety experts, unreported sexual assault on public transit happens because most passengers don't realize an assault has taken place. Overcrowding and the assumption passengers are "accidentally being touched" are many reasons why people don't consider themselves a victim of sexual assault. Or, they fear they won't be taken seriously.

One anonymous female GO train passenger texted describing a recent incident on a busy Lakeshore West train. She alleged a male passenger grinded his pelvis into her back whenever the train swayed side to side. This passenger confronted her assailant and when he denied assaulting her, other passengers came to her defence. This passenger said she didn't report the incident to GO Transit because she believed it was "isolated", and that she had "effectively handled it".

I can back her up with my own story of "handling" unwanted sexual advances when traveling on transit. I was in my early twenties and traveling to Yorkdale subway station one Saturday afternoon. Seated next to me was an older gentlemen who was fondling himself through his pants pocket. He was trying in vain to get me to watch him and I was trying in vain to ignore him. The subway was crowded and I was in a two-seater with him. I was seated in the seat closest to the window. Occasionally, he would press his thigh into mine. I began to plan my escape after we left St. Clair West station. Suddenly, he asked me if I wanted to "touch it". Using all my strength, I lunged at him and managed to knock him off the seat and into the aisle. I don't remember what I said. I just remember feeling humiliated, scared, disgusted and super anxious. I vaulted over him and pushed my way off the train, and managed to escape just as the train doors closed. Standing on the platform at Eglinton West station, I tried to make sense of what had just happened. I didn't report it.

I've never had a situation on GO Transit where I felt sexually violated or touched inappropriately. I find traveling on GO to be quite safe. Unlike subway cars, passengers have the ability to move through the train freely to escape situations we feel might get out of hand. We also have a living and breathing person we can go directly to if we need immediate help, since all GO trains have a customer service ambassador on board.

GO Transit has demonstrated on numerous occasions they take all reports of sexual assault very seriously. Transit safety officers conduct regular patrols of stations and vehicles to deter and prevent criminal behaviour, issuing system-wide and public security bulletins when incidents of sexual assault occur.

A suspect in a recent sexual assault on a GO Transit passenger in York Region was quickly arrested after the decisive and swift actions of GO Transit's Safety division, wrote Aikins.

Aikins also said in her email that GO Transit Safety Officers freely share information with other GTA transit and law enforcement agencies, which is why arrests tend to happen swiftly.

To report an incident of sexual assault on GO Transit directly to GO Transit, contact 1-877-297-0642.


G said...

I have no doubt that assaults (both sexual and otherwise) are highly under-reported in both systems. Like your anonymous texter, I think most people just deal with it themselves (or try to forget about it) and don't bother reporting the incident. But it wouldn't surprise me at all if GO Transit had a lower rate: the GO Train seems to be much more "civilized" in general than the TTC in my experience. This is probably due to a variety of factors: GO Stations are less accessible so we don't get as many people with mental health issues entering the system; it is significantly more expensive so we don't get trouble-makers just "hanging out" on the train; and there is probably a demographic difference because of the urban/suburban split (overall crime rates are higher in the Toronto core).

CJ Smith said...


KM said...

I was on a crowded GO bus one night a couple years ago and a guy sat beside me. He kept rubbing his arm/elbow up and down and it was touching me. I felt uncomfortable and kept trying to inch away just thinking maybe we didn't have enough room with winter jackets etc. I've reflected on this incident and it was probably more likely to be sexual assault. I never reported it because I didn't know for sure, the bus was dark and I never got a good look at him. It was throughout the entire bus ride which was what made it so weird.

Unknown said...

'and there is probably a demographic difference because of the urban/suburban split (overall crime rates are higher in the Toronto core)'

Care to back that up with some stats?

I suspect that this part of your 'logic' is not true and you are succumbing to the 'core is bad' assumption. There are more people in the core and more transit users on the TTC, but I don't believe the demographic or crime stats are that different per capita in the suburbs versus the core.

G said...


Well, this Toronto crime map shows a high per-capita concentration of assaults in the city centre. Sexual assaults are also very high in the city centre, with lowering incidents as you extend outward, with the notable exception of the Jane-Finch area.

Admittedly this map doesn't show the 905 regions, but you can do spot checks to compare. In Durham region, for example, there were 2432 incidents of assault in 2011. For a population of 608,124 in 2011, that works out to 40 per 10,000 people, which would put it at the second-lowest level on the Toronto map legend (that same year the Bay Street corridor had 286 assaults per 10,000 residents).

Unknown said...

Thanks for the info, and thanks for responding to the request :) The stats don't appear to support your claim however. You stated that assaults are related to an area's, 'demographics' ('there is probably a demographic difference because of the urban/suburban split'). This implies that the residents of the core are more dangerous than the suburbs. But the stats don't indicate where the perpetrators of the crimes live (If they all live in Ajax then riding the GO is indeed risky..)

While cases of assault are high in the core and some of the poorer neighbourhoods this doesn't mean they reflect the residents of those neighbourhoods.

Also, there are no stats on your link for the GO GTA regions (Whitby, Ajax etc) so we can't do a full comparison.

Based on what I see here it appears fair to conclude that:
- You are at a higher risk of sexual assault if you're hanging out in the core or in some of the poorer neighbourhoods
- The residents of those neighbourhoods are not necessarily the ones assaulting you.

Are we agreed...?

G said...


I did note that the map is only for Toronto itself, which is why I included assault stats for Durham region, which includes Pickering, Ajax, Whitby, and Oshawa.

It is true that there's no way to tell (with the data available) whether the perpetrators of crime within a particular neighbourhood are actually residents of that neighbourhood or not. But to think that all the crime happening in the Toronto core is from Ajax residents (who, for whatever reason, are not committing crimes in their own neighbourhoods) stretches my credulity.

But in any case, let's not get side-tracked. The original post was about TTC vs GO Transit sexual assault statistics and I guess I'm still not surprised that the per-capita rates are higher on the TTC.

Anonymous said...

Like G, I'm sure there's a different quality of commuter on Go Transit than on the TTC. People commuting in largely are homeowners with families and jobs that pay well. You could call them core taxpayers types. The subway carries a mix of absolutely everyone. But I'm not going to research and write a thesis just to convince Bob, who likely is offended by the idea that not everyone is exactly the same and won't be receptive anyhow.

Unknown said...

No argument there, and agreed that the commentary does not relate to the post. It relates to the comment you made about urban/suburban demographics which, as we seem to have agreed, is not relevant to this argument.

I'm sensitive (as should we all be) about assumptions made about where we live, and who lives there. We all need to be careful not to make derogatory implications - especially unfounded ones - about one another. When you insult the core you insult me :)

G said...


I get it: I live in "the shwa" and believe it or not we're not all blue-collar GM plant workers who drive around in jacked-up trucks. But is there a higher concentration of that demographic in my city? Undeniably so.

Unknown said...

@Anonymous - seriously? You're lobbing insults on the TCT comments page? Nice! Quiet day at work maybe...? I won't bother trolling back, but you may want to consider sniping on a more down market site where you might get some bites. Good luck!

@G - Yes! I have many assumptions about the fine folks from the other armpit and they're all, erm, true ;) Point taken. The price point is another factor in the GO vs TTC demographic (not sure if this was raised) and another reason you are almost certainly safer on the GO.

C.J. Smith said...

"seriously? You're lobbing insults on the TCT comments page? Nice! Quiet day at work maybe...?"

***Puts package of popcorn away. Cries softly