“He just pulled my hand in to his lap”: what it’s really like to be assaulted on the London Underground

A woman on the London Underground, 2012. Image: Getty.

Sexual harassment is rife in public spaces, and as an integral part of daily life, public transport is no exception. As global as it is endemic, women are forced to negotiate the risk and reality of sexual harassment as they get from A to B on a daily basis.

On the London Underground, the extent of the issue became apparent in 2013 after a Transport for London (TfL) survey revealed that 15 per cent of Londoners had experienced some form of unwanted sexual attention on public transport in the city. A large proportion of these incidents happened on the Underground.

In my research, I spoke to women who had experienced sexual harassment on the tube. The unique nature of the space of the underground and the way people interact with each other when they’re using it mean that the abuse manifests itself in particular ways.

As Eliza, who has lived in London and used the tube her whole life said:

On the tube you’re simultaneously in close proximity with so many people and yet you’re completely anonymous. Everyone is in their own world... and I think some people take advantage of that.

Groping or “frotteuring” are the most common offences, and generally happen in the morning and evening rush hours. Masturbation and indecent exposures are more likely on quieter, off-peak trains.

The women I spoke to also described being “upskirted” – having someone take a photo up their skirt – and having indecent images randomly sent to them via the airdrop function on their phone. They said they had been followed, ejaculated on, had to deflect drunken come-ons, and put up with verbal and physical aggression.

The daily crush provides useful cover for perpetrators. Image: Axel Drainville/Flickr/creative commons.

Taylor, a 33-year old project manager in Canary Wharf, east London, called her experience “insidious”. On a late evening tube, she described how a man came and sat next to her:

He just pulled my hand in to his lap and held it there... I just froze... I was looking around trying to make eye contact with someone to say, ‘Get this guy off me’. The longer I left it, the more I felt like I couldn’t move... it lasted 15 minutes. Afterwards... I was so ashamed and confused by my own reaction.

When I asked her if she had reported the incident, she shook her head and said:

I had a hard time even explaining it to my boyfriend. How would I go about talking to the police? There’s no way they’d take that seriously.

The TfL survey showed that only one in ten people made reports after experiencing a sexual offence on the Underground. Due to the nature of the environment and the type of incidents that occur, reporting and policing sexual harassment on the tube comes with its own set of difficulties.

Unlike most acts of sexual violence, offences on the underground are committed by strangers. The police therefore have to rely on CCTV, Oyster card data, and, most importantly, information from victims when looking into a case. In a fast paced, densely packed, transitory environment, that can be extremely challenging.

Anonymity

Ruth, who commuted on the Waterloo and City line, described how she wasn’t even sure who assaulted her:

I felt someone’s hand touch me... between my legs... The carriage was packed full of men in suits, I couldn’t tell where the hand was coming from and no one looked suspicious. So at first I thought maybe I was imagining it, or it was an accident. Then the fingers moved from side to side... What was I going to do? If I’d said who’s touching me, no one would admit it. It would be so embarrassing. The tube arrived, the doors opened and everybody got off.

That kind of uncertainty and ambiguity often affects women’s reactions – both while an incident is happening and afterwards – making them reluctant to come forward. They also report a fear of being victim blamed, and thinking the incident was not serious enough to bother the police with, demonstrating the pervasive normalisation of sexual harassment. Furthermore, some women said they didn’t report simply because they wanted to avoid their day being further disrupted, which, considering the energy that often already goes into avoiding and negotiating sexual assault, is as valid a reason as any.

However as Rach stated, perhaps the onus should not be on women to report in the first place:

Everyone said to me, report it, you should report it. But I didn’t want to, I didn’t want to have to relive it again... It’s not my responsibility and I shouldn’t be made to feel guilty.

Loughborough University.

In an attempt to overcome some of these barriers and to put less pressure on victims, British Transport Police have taken various measures. There is now a number you can text to report incidents and undercover officers who are specially trained to spot this kind of behaviour are patrolling the Underground network.

The ConversationThe recent proliferation in reporting and public story sharing has led to an increased awareness that women are forced to negotiate this behaviour on a regular, often daily, basis in all kinds of places. Perhaps we should use this momentum to transfer the pressure and obligation to combat sexually invasive behaviour away from those who have already been victimised and instead collectively challenge issues of normalisation and bystander apathy that allow these incidents to occur on such a pervasive level.

Sian Lewis, Doctoral Researcher. Feminist Urban Sociologist, Loughborough University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


 

 
 
 
 

What’s killing northerners?

The Angel of the North. Image: Getty.

There is a stark disparity in wealth and health between people in the north and south of England, commonly referred to as England’s “north-south divide”. The causes of this inequality are complex; it’s influenced by the environment, jobs, migration and lifestyle factors – as well as the long-term political power imbalances, which have concentrated resources and investment in the south, especially in and around London.

Life expectancy is also lower in the north, mainly because the region is more deprived. But new analysis of national mortality data highlights a shockingly large mortality gap between young adults, aged 25 to 44, living in the north and south of England. This gap first emerged in the late 1990s, and seems to have been growing ever since.

In 1995, there were 2% more deaths among northerners aged 25 to 34 than southerners (in other words, 2% “excess mortality”). But by 2015, northerners in this age group were 29% more likely to die than their southern counterparts. Likewise, in the 35 to 44 age group, there was 3% difference in mortality between northerners and southerners in 1995. But by 2015, there were 49% more deaths among northerners than southerners in this age group.

Excess mortality in the north compared with south of England by age groups, from 1965 to 2015. Follow the lines to see that people born around 1980 are the ones most affected around 2015.

While mortality increased among northerners aged 25 to 34, and plateaued among 35 to 44-year-olds, southern mortality mainly declined across both age groups. Overall, between 2014 and 2016, northerners aged 25 to 44 were 41% more likely to die than southerners in the same age group. In real terms, this means that between 2014 and 2016, 1,881 more women and 3,530 more men aged between 25 and 44 years died in the north, than in the south.

What’s killing northerners?

To understand what’s driving this mortality gap among young adults, our team of researchers looked at the causes of death from 2014 to 2016, and sorted them into eight groups: accidents, alcohol related, cardiovascular related (heart conditions, diabetes, obesity and so on), suicide, drug related, breast cancer, other cancers and other causes.

Controlling for the age and sex of the population in the north and the south, we found that it was mostly the deaths of northern men contributing to the difference in mortality – and these deaths were caused mainly by cardiovascular conditions, alcohol and drug misuse. Accidents (for men) and cancer (for women) also played important roles.

From 2014 to 2016, northerners were 47% more likely to die for cardiovascular reasons, 109% for alcohol misuse and 60% for drug misuse, across both men and women aged 25 to 44 years old. Although the national rate of death from cardiovascular reasons has dropped since 1981, the longstanding gap between north and south remains.

Death and deprivation

The gap in life expectancy between north and south is usually put down to socioeconomic deprivation. We considered further data for 2016, to find out if this held true for deaths among young people. We found that, while two thirds of the gap were explained by the fact that people lived in deprived areas, the remaining one third could be caused by some unmeasured form of deprivation, or by differences in culture, infrastructure, migration or extreme weather.

Mortality for people aged 25 to 44 years in 2016, at small area geographical level for the whole of England.

Northern men faced a higher risk of dying young than northern women – partly because overall mortality rates are higher for men than for women, pretty much at every age, but also because men tend to be more susceptible to socioeconomic pressures. Although anachronistic, the expectation to have a job and be able to sustain a family weighs more on men. Accidents, alcohol misuse, drug misuse and suicide are all strongly associated with low socioeconomic status.

Suicide risk is twice as high among the most deprived men, compared to the most affluent. Suicide risk has also been associated with unemployment, and substantial increases in suicide have been observed during periods of recession – especially among men. Further evidence tells us that unskilled men between ages 25 and 39 are between ten and 20 times more likely to die from alcohol-related causes, compared to professionals.

Alcohol underpins the steep increase in liver cirrhosis deaths in Britain from the 1990s – which is when the north-south divide in mortality between people aged 25 to 44 also started to emerge. Previous research has shown that men in this age group, who live in the most deprived areas, are five times more likely to die from alcohol-related diseases than those in the most affluent areas. For women in deprived areas, the risk is four times greater.


It’s also widely known that mortality rates for cancer are higher in more deprived areas, and people have worse survival rates in places where smoking and alcohol abuse is more prevalent. Heroin and crack cocaine addiction and deaths from drug overdoses are also strongly associated with deprivation.

The greater number of deaths from accidents in the north should be considered in the context of transport infrastructure investment, which is heavily skewed towards the south – especially London, which enjoys the lowest mortality in the country. What’s more, if reliable and affordable public transport is not available, people will drive more and expose themselves to higher risk of an accident.

Deaths for young adults in the north of England have been increasing compared to those in the south since the late 1990s, creating new health divides between England’s regions. It seems that persistent social, economic and health inequalities are responsible for a growing trend of psychological distress, despair and risk taking among young northerners. Without major changes, the extreme concentration of power, wealth and opportunity in the south will continue to damage people’s health, and worsen the north-south divide.

The Conversation

Evangelos Kontopantelis, Professor in Data Science and Health Services Research, University of Manchester

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.