There are some things we should not tolerate in the new normal

By Jacqueline Starr, CEO of Rail Delivery Group

There are some things we should not tolerate in the new normal – here’s what the rail industry has done and will do.

As we reach another unlocking milestone next week, many of us are looking forward to returning to what has sometimes felt like an elusive ‘normal’.

While, however, there are some things we long to be just the same, there are others that can and should change.
Throughout the pandemic, there has been much talk of the ‘new normal’, of how we can build back better, taking some of the positives from the worst crisis since World War II and carrying them forward to create a better economy and society. Some things on this wish list are macroeconomic and infrastructural – net zero carbon, levelling up. Others are social and personal – communities supporting each other, families making greener choices.

While the rail industry has a part to play in all these areas, I want to focus now on a pressing social issue which train operators have been working in partnership for almost two years to address: unwanted sexual behaviour (USB) toward people of all genders, particularly women and girls, who we know experience this more frequently.

While the statistics show that people experience less USB on trains than in other public places – a 2017 YouGov survey reported women experienced sexual harassment most often in the street (56%), followed by a pub, club, or bar (53%) – our message is clear: we have zero tolerance for USB across the rail network and we are joining forces to end such behaviour, full stop. Everybody should have the confidence to travel where and when they like.

This is a societal problem that we all have a responsibility to defeat and the rail industry is putting in place the conditions and the partnerships to help all of us do just that.

Since 2019 we have been working closely with rail and transport industry colleagues, British Transport Police (BTP) and many incredible charities and sexual violence specialists, including Bryony Beynon, Good Night Out Campaign, Survivors UK, The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, Plan International UK, Solace Women’s Aid, The Survivors Trust, and Rape Crisis England & Wales, to help us develop a national strategy to tackle USB on the railway.

The invaluable advice and insights from this dialogue and previous work conducted in this area by Transport for London (TfL) – who are fully committed to tackling this issue and are working closely with us on developing the campaign - have informed our strategy, making us determined to create an environment where the burden of dealing with these incidents is not borne by victims/survivors alone, evoking uncomfortable and traumatic incidents for them.

We all need to take responsibility and support each other. Our insights revealed that high levels of normalisation mean that people have come to expect and accept unwanted sexual attention in public spaces. This needs to change.

Our research showed that only 10% of women and 12% of men say they have witnessed USB as a bystander on trains. We need to make sure that we do not miss USB because our thresholds of what is acceptable, what is ‘normal’, are set too high. To mitigate against this, we are working with our membership to roll out training to rail staff based on BTP’s safeguarding principles, enabling rail workers to identify and respond to cases of USB and keep our customers safe.

This is a welcome start but there’s more we can all do, so this summer we’re launching a national campaign against USB, in partnership with Crimestoppers and BTP. Our charity partners have also played a key role in helping us to develop messaging that is designed to disrupt and challenge the behaviour of people who perpetrate USB on the rail network, as well as providing reassurance to rail users.

We aim to increase awareness of the prevalence, nature, and impact of USB when it is experienced by our employees and customers, as well as signposting how to report USB and what support is available.

Having a shared understanding of what USB is will make it easier for people to recognise when someone may be feeling uncomfortable and may need some support. This could be as simple as finding a safe way to check if someone is OK or reporting the incident to rail staff or police.

BTP take all reports of USB seriously, and will investigate to try and identify the perpetrator and hold them accountable for their actions. Whether this be through prosecution and/or applying for Sexual Harm Prevention or Sexual Risk Orders, there are enforcement tools available that allow BTP to apply restrictions to a person's use of the railway if they are deemed to pose a risk of sexual harm to the public.

We know that most passengers want to help keep others safe. We have seen this community spirit in action during the Covid-19 pandemic, with 9 in 10 passengers wearing masks on trains. By raising awareness of what constitutes USB and how this behaviour affects people going about their lives – travelling, working, enjoying themselves – we aim to give people the confidence to identify USB and be confident that they can seek support and/or report it.

Anyone who sees or experiences any form of harassment can text BTP on 61016 and/or notify a member of staff any time during or after their journey.

Further information about USB and access to support services can be found using the above charity hyperlinks. 

What happens when a report of unwanted sexual behaviour is made to British Transport Police (BTP)?

  1. You send a text to report a crime to BTP on 61016.
  2. Your text is received by the first contact centre.
  3. You will receive a text in return to let you know your report was received.
  4. BTP will then call you to ask for more details.
  5. After you have made a report, you may be asked to make a formal statement. You don’t have to go to the police station, the BTP can visit you where you feel most comfortable. You don’t have to make a statement but by doing so you help apprehend offenders and prevent other experiencing unwanted sexual behaviour.
  6. If the offender is apprehended, BTP will support you through any subsequent prosecution.

No incident is small or trivial and you will always be taken seriously.

More about USB and support services

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