Are segregated carriages the answer to assault on trains?

by Laura Mundy

Image source: flickr.com

Image source: flickr.com

I was recently introduced to Slow Journalism; a concept fighting against the fast-paced, incomplete news coverage we are currently subjected to. Headline one day, viral on social media for 24 hours, and the next day? Nothing.

I wanted to reflect here on a gender-based issue that hit the headlines recently and was stereotypically brief, with little to no further comment or analysis.

Back in August, Jeremy Corbyn proposed the idea of women-only train carriages to tackle the staggering amount of gender-based violence reported on UK trains in the past year. He also suggested a 24-hour hotline where women could report incidents, an increase in cabinet members focusing on women’s safety and stricter rules for organisations reporting incidents on their premises. But it was the women-only trains that was the focus of all media coverage that day.

As I Google ‘women only train carriages UK’ I am faced with a ridiculous number of newspaper articles from the 26th August this year, all reeling off the same spiel about ‘when Jeremy Corbyn said this thing’.

News stories seemed to angle on the contraversial Labour leader Corbyn, rather than finding a viable solution to the issue at hand

News stories seemed to angle on the contraversial Labour leader Corbyn, rather than finding a viable solution to the issue at hand

So, the fact that Jeremy spoke out about the issue was well covered. But how did people react to this? Have women been consulted? What are their responses?  Were people offended or was it welcomed? Has anyone anywhere mentioned it since 26th August?

THE FACTS

Jeremy Corbyn said very clearly that the women-only train carriages idea was a proposal that required deliberation and consultation, and not a policy that had been decided upon. He made this proposal in reaction to the British Transport Police Statistical Bulletin, which reported a shocking 25% increase in sexual offences from April 2014 to March 2015.

And so I landed on the British Transport Police website in the hope of finding out more, and got this banner in my face.

British Transport Police

Aha. It’s now easy to report crimes on trains, *discreetly*. I guess discreetly is important if you’re in a confined space and are the victim of a crime. But my initial reaction to seeing the word ‘discreetly’ was a shudder. To me, you do things discreetly when you’re embarrassed, or committing a crime, not trying to report one.
They say that 5,355 incidents were attended to by BTP officers in the past 2 years since the text service was launched. And which story do they choose to highlight the ‘success’ of their service?

A gender-based violence one.

 Transport police

Man arrested. *Result*.

Too often perpetrators of this sort of crime are not caught, so I am pleased to see that this one was. But it’s the fact that they were showcasing the aftermath of a crime that irked me. Why aren’t they doing anything to stop it in the first place?

WOMEN-ONLY TRAIN CARRIAGES ACROSS THE WORLD

Wondering if the concept of women-only carriages had come up before; I turn back to Google and find a Guardian article which tells me it has, many times.

Iran, UAE and Egypt are three such cases. I find these examples difficult to use as a comparison for justifying segregated trains in the UK, as gender segregation is more commonplace in these countries; their existence cited as a by-product of cultural attitudes or religious requirements, rather than a concerns over women’s safety.

India has also introduced women-only metro carriages and whole trains in certain cities. It also has growing incidents of gender-based violence around the country. Yet the response from many women is that it’s a big step back in terms of gender equality, and does not solve anything. Gender-based violence will continue to occur elsewhere, why is there only a focus on safety on trains?

Other sources and countries report problems with enforcement, men deliberately disobeying the rules, and becoming abusive and angry when told they cannot board a train. Where whole trains are women only, male family members complain about not being able to travel on the same train as their female family members.

Certainly, I struggle to see how this segregationist attitude can be maintained and enforced.

Image source: The Telegraph

Image source: The Telegraph

GENDER SEGREGATION

I can’t help feeling that I wouldn’t want to segregate myself, as a matter of principle. To me, it feels like a form of punishment, and doesn’t address the cause of the problem. Could a better solution not arise from heightening education in equality and respect? Is it right for the onus to be on the majority (women) to change their behaviour, and not the minority (violent men)?

Where travelling segregation is already in place with the ‘first class’ system, offering those willing to pay the price – a more luxurious journey separated from ‘the rest’ of us; I myself have sneaked into first class without paying on multiple occasions. It’s easy to do and I cannot see what would stop predatory men from entering the women-only spaces.

Surely sufficient numbers of security employees on trains is the most practical, effective and fair way to prevent violence on trains, rather than an opt-in gendered seperation system.

Ultimately, I am sure a lot of women welcome the idea and would opt in for their own safety. But I can’t help wondering, if women-only carriages do come into effect, would I be blamed if anything happened to me on a train with a women-only carriage option, having chosen not to ride in it. Maybe it even looks like I’m asking for trouble.

So what would I do, if a women-only carriage arrived at my platform?

I’m actually unsure. Why should I have to make this decision at all?

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Who do our streets belong to? Why women feel scared to walk the streets alone

By Siân Ryan

iStock/Thinkstock

iStock/Thinkstock

As a woman in my mid twenties, I should feel confident and safe enough to walk down any street in Britain. I have lived both in the countryside and city and at times, have experienced heart racing, sweat inducing fear when walking alone in either of these surroundings. I’m not alone. In fact very few of my girlfriends would ever consider walking back from a night out to their homes a few hundred meters away, without the security of company. When asking these girls if they would walk their dogs in the woods alone, in broad daylight, there was a unanimous answer of no. They would be too afraid.

What has caused this fear that none of us are questioning enough? A growing concern for young women in Britain is being subjected to male harassment on our streets. The shocking statistics of street harassment reveals that very few women have not experienced verbal harassment over the past year. The daily commute takes on another level of stress when you walk out of your front door and instead of receiving a cheery ‘good morning’ from the builders working on your neighbour’s roof, you are subjected to a onslaught of explicit obscenities and are told to ‘cheer up’ when you don’t reply to someone asking if they ‘can come on your face’. Should these verbal assaults be enough to frighten women off our streets?

INVASIONS OF PRIVACY

If you’re not convinced, perhaps a physical assault would seem a more plausible cause. Sixty three percent of British women have been groped or fondled over the past year. Getting your arse stroked by a sweaty man with a straight face in a suit, on a packed train carriage, had been accepted as the norm up until very recently. Experiencing such vile and intimidating invasions of a woman’s personal space and body is reason enough for women to start avoid such circumstances.

Daily journeys to work, university, or even school become fraught and filled with anxiety for so many women, and as these stories are becoming shared and publicised, a perception of a world of fear, in which women have no control, starts to build.

Grist/ Amelia Bates

Grist/ Amelia Bates

‘HIS STREETS’

Do men face these familiar worries when they lace up their brogues before leaving the house in the morning? Do they cross the road when they see a group of builders leering out of a building site? I am yet to witness a man looking nervously at the tube doors willing them to open while a woman stands behind him and reaches out for his crotch.

What I have witnessed however, is a growing number of individuals who call themselves ‘pick up artists’. These men take to the streets with one objective: to meet women and play a game which results in them taking a woman home for sex. In their world, women exist to satisfy their needs and are there for the taking. They flatter, intimidate and coerce women into having sex with them, which they usually film without the woman’s consent or knowledge, and post later online to encourage other followers of ‘the game’ to go out tomorrow and do exactly the same thing. Nice.

These guys walk down our streets with more arrogance than confidence, along with a self assured swagger, believing they have nothing to fear. One man in the BBC documentary, ‘Britain’s Biggest Sexists’, unashamedly states that these are ‘his streets’. Sadly, how right he is.

TAUGHT TO BE FEARFUL

Pick up artists and male street harassers create a frightening idea of the world for women, just as much as schools and parents do. Young girls are taught not to walk alone at night, to be careful of strangers, to dress appropriately, to learn self defence moves and even avoid putting their hair in a pony tail, incase someone jumps out of the bushes and pulls on it to drag them in. With society teaching a generation of young girls to be fearful of stranger attacks, you would think abductions and sexual assaults on the streets are rife, yet the truth is that 90% of people who are raped know the perpetrator prior to the offence. This kind of fear mongering by society perpetuates the idea that the streets are a dangerous place for women, and they are better off staying at home.

When examining my own fear about walking my dog on my own and listening to my friends share their fears, I realised how we have normalised this irrational fear, and how crazy that is. A generation of brilliant, successful, young women do not feel the streets belong to them, whilst a small group of egotistical men, and bullying street harassers, claim full ownership. This is so wrong, and we should not let this continue. I refuse to live in fear, waiting for the worst to happen. Tomorrow I’ll feel free as I walk to work and stick two fingers up at the man wolf whistling out of his van window, or maybe I won’t even care enough to do that.

I’ll no longer edge around the shadows on the pavements, as I remind myself that there is more chance of a black cat hiding amongst them than a raged psychopath getting ready to pounce and drag me in by my ponytail.

‘This is not what a rapist looks like.’ How a reaction to consent classes shows how necessary they are

By Joshua Piercey

George Lawson insinuates that a rapist can be defined by how they look. Image source: The Tab Warwick

George Lawson insinuates that a rapist can be defined by how they look. Image source: The Tab Warwick

A student at Warwick University found himself embroiled in a very public twitter-storm after he rejected an invite to a university workshop discussing the importance of consent.

George Lawson, 19, wrote an article – which appeared in the online student newspaper The Tab – titled ‘Why I don’t need consent lessons’ along with a photograph of him holding a sign stating, ‘This is not what a rapist looks like’.

George Lawson is a bit of a twit, and will probably think a little harder before hurling himself into a public forum, but his case is interesting and revealing.

His article comes across as hugely defensive – surprising, when attendance at the sessions aren’t mandatory, he could have simply ignored the invitation. But he apparently speaks from a position of genuine hurt. He feels unfairly targeted. He resents the implication of the invite.

His resentment is misplaced, but his reaction – and the reaction of those in the comment section of the Daily Mail  (pro-tip: don’t read those) – indicates a dichotomy encapsulating why rape culture exists and why consent classes should exist.

Simply put, no one knows what a rapist looks like and to imply that a rapist can be determined by their physical appearance, background or education is misguided and dangerous.

NO STRANGERS IN THE BUSHES

The evidence is conclusive – the vast majority of rape (perpetrated by men or women, on men or women) is committed by someone the victim knows. The people who commit sexual assault do not, presumably, consider themselves evil people.  Josie Throup a volunteer at Warwick’s consent workshops and fellow student wrote a response piece to George’s misconception. ‘I wanted to run workshops which debunk the common myth..that ‘rape only occurs between strangers in dark alleys.”

A secondary point, and one that’s problematic in the extreme, is that consent is a grey area, if only from a statistical standing. It’s a simple concept, but the numbers indicate that people have a tougher time getting their head around it than one might expect. “No means no” is all well and good, but when rapists apparently don’t know the meaning of either of those “no’s”, it would suggest that consent classes (or something like them) really are necessary.

Fellow Warwick student and consent class volunteer Josie Throup took to the The Tab to address some of the flaws in George's argument. Image source: The Tab Warwick

Fellow Warwick student and consent class volunteer Josie Throup took to the The Tab to address some of the flaws in George’s argument. Image source: The Tab Warwick

The alternative is deeply frightening. The alternative is that everyone who commits sexual assault is fully aware of their actions, knows they are a rapist… and does it anyway.

The idea of an unrepentant, fully aware sexual predator – someone who repeatedly targets and rapes women or men in complete knowledge of their culpability and crimes – is so far from the statistical mark. While they do exist, do we genuinely believe that Warwick University’s consent classes are aimed at these people? That they might read the invitation cackling inwardly, because they know exactly what consent is but just don’t care? George Lawson labelled the consent classes as ‘wasted effort’ because ‘if you’re going to commit rape, you’re not going to go to one of the lectures,’ reasoning so asinine as to be infantile.

People who are ‘planning’ to commit rape are not the target audience. The target audience are those who distance themselves from their actions and believe, and live in the belief, like George, if they don’t fit the profile of a rapist how can they be one?

AN END TO GREY AREAS

I’m aware of the counter-argument to all this, and I understand it. Everyone has a basic understanding of what consent is, an understanding that George Lawson claims for himself, and if they don’t, they should. There’s no excuse.

I would like to subscribe to this notion.

It should be so simple, but it’s not.

Claiming consent is simple perpetuates that aforementioned dichotomy, one that lets perpetrators distance their own actions from that of a completely hypothetical criminal. A dichotomy that hinders self-examination, that allows defensive outrage to outweigh the reality time and time again.

Consent classes are designed to reach for clarity, rather than pretending that clarity is predefined, or that it already exists. The aim is a world where there are no grey areas, no more excuses. If we want to end grey areas, we need to teach people the delineation between black and white.

If you already know about consent, George, then good for you. But next time, instead of being wounded, perhaps the fact that a question about what defines a rapist even exists, might clue you in as to why consent classes are necessary.

 

I am more than just a stereotype

By Flora Aduk

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Flora Aduk a journalist living in Uganda, talks about her experiences of prejudice against women in her field. 


From a young age, I have always had a strong sense of right and wrong. Being a woman in Uganda and Africa comes with it’s own challenges but I harnessed these and ultimately they shaped me and set me on a career path of journalism.

I am the Features Editor at the Daily Monitor newspaper, one of Uganda’s most popular dailies. Starting out, I dreamed of reporting on the front line, telling the stories that ultimately changed the world around me. Making a break in journalism has proved to be a battle of it’s own and while I may not be presenting the evening news bulletin, I have had unique insight into one of the toughest professions on the planet and the attitudes of the people within it.

One incident in particular sticks in my mind. A few years ago, I was in the company of a senior political reporter. Having just made his cup of tea, he proceeded to initiate small talk in the newsroom near my desk.

Instinctively, he asked me my thoughts about the Lord’s Resistance Insurgency in northern Uganda.   It was a period where the LRA leadership led by Joseph Kony tried to launch peace talks with the Ugandan Government to end the war. It was the biggest story in the newsroom. Just as I was collecting my thoughts, (and I did have some especially given that northern Uganda is my home region and the war affected my extended family) he cut me short right there saying: “Or maybe you don’t bother with such things and are more into lifestyle, fashion and society.”

Image source: shoppertainmentmanagement.co.ukImage source: shoppertainmentmanagement.co.uk

I was shocked to say the least, my jaw actually dropped, but before I could even respond, he’d walked away. I have never forgotten that episode. I felt so humiliated and angry that I never went for a confrontation. How dare he? I kept asking myself. I however, let the incident go because from my judgement he didn’t seem the kind to understand what was wrong with what he had said.

And that is how things work when it comes to stereotypes about women. These prejudices are so ingrained in society that we come to dismiss them and ultimately ignore them. Stereotypes drive me crazy and attitudes such as these continue to reinforce them.

Carol, a colleague at my workplace pointed out the same thing in her column, a few weeks ago.  Her take, that I totally agree with, is ‘I shall not pretend that only a few people think and believe that women are inferior to men. But that doesn’t mean it is right. We need to let people know the damage these attitudes cause and how it incites the oppression of women of all generations.’

Women walk through paths paved with these stereotypes throughout their entire lives and there’s no doubt about the effects they have on self-esteem and the suffocation of opportunities.   Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggests that gender stereotypes have a lasting detrimental impact on those who experience the prejudice.

In my career, I have been exposed to stereotypes about women in media and witnessed many young women cut or change their career paths because of it. In reporting news, the official rhetoric is that gender is irrelevant to the practice or profession. However in practice, especially in the fields considered hard news, such as politics, business and science, we see mostly male reporters and contributors. The reality is the majority of women remain in ‘soft’ news journalism, reporting on human interest stories, style features, in a magazine format.

Stereotypes Image source: ladyrika.wordpress.com

Stereotypes Image source: ladyrika.wordpress.com

Karen Ross states the journalistic profession is in a ‘catch 22’ situation, while women continue to dominate the soft news spheres, such as fashion, lifestyle, and cookery, it is ultimately more difficult for women to break into the hard news spheres. With a lack of female role models in hard news naturally women will continue to gravitate to the soft news roles and the cycle continues. (Women at Work: Journalism as an endangered practice. Journalism Studies Volume 2, Issue 4, 2001)

Female journalists are subject to gender discrimination even at the assignment level of stories, as editors will prefer to send male journalists to cover stories focused on war or conflict. I for one believe we shouldn’t allow society to remain stuck in these stereotypes. I don’t know if giving that reporter a piece of my mind would have changes his outlook, but I think the least women deserve is an opportunity to prove otherwise. We are more than just a stereotype.