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 ThisCrazyTrain.com 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 ThisCrazyTrain.com 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.