Case studies on how to reduce incidents of harassment and assault on public transit

Case studies on how to reduce incidents of harassment and assault on public transit

Below you will find promising practices from Washington DC, Philadelphia, Louisville, Boston, London, and Jakarta. Each of these cities has identified harassment and assault on public transit as a key concern and has worked with local advocates to improve rider safety.

Washington, DC

In 2012 the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, working with nonprofit organizations including Collective Action for Safe Spaces and Stop Street Harassment implemented a three-pronged anti-harassment effort which involved: 

  • Creating a three-part anti-harassment PSA series. Part one is focused on survivor empathy, part two is targeted at getting perpetrators to change their behavior and part three has a bystander focus.
  • Training Metro employees. They added 38 minutes to their existing sexual harassment training to focus on how to respond to rider who has been harassed.
  • Creating an online reporting portal. Users can report anonymously. If they include their contact information, they will get a call from the police is under 48 hours. If their experience was illegal, they will be asked if they want to file an official report. They will also be offered support services.  The data collected is aggregated into an annual report that is made public.

In addition, every April as part of sexual assault awareness month, the police and transit authority flyer subway stations and hand out pins and bracelets to riders.

In 2018, they passed the Street Harassment Prevention Act. The Street Harassment Prevention Act of 2018 (SHPA), is a first of its kind legal measure in the United States that: (1) creates a legal definition of street harassment; (2) establishes a community-based  Advisory Committee to study street harassment and develop model policies and trainings; and (3) requires a public information campaign on street harassment. It was designed to uniquely focus on prevention through education instead of criminalization. In September 2019 they launched a transit ad campaign highlighting how street harassment impacted people differently.

Philadelphia, PA

In 2014, Hollaback! Philly (which is unfortunately no longer active) successfully placed bystander ads in the subways and at bus stops. They went viral online, reaching over 500,000 people and getting significant press coverage including pieces from, The Inquirer, and Women’s Media Center.  The campaign was so successful that Philadelphia’s transit authority doubled their run time. 

Louisville, KY 

In Louisville, the nonprofit organization MensWork worked with the bus system to combat sexual harassment on the busses and at the bus stops.  Their plan includes: 

  • An ongoing social marketing campaign targeting men to interrupt harassing behaviors. Instead of calling on women to respond differently or men who harass to stop, they are focusing on bystanders — which they are defining for the purposes of this initiative as the men who see things and are bothered by it.
  • Bystander training with bus drivers so they can feel more empowered to say something do something when they do something. The problem that they’re learning is that a lot of this kind of behavior is strategically going on where bus drivers and other staff don’t see it.
  • Bystander training for riders. They are working on providing incentives for riders to attend.

Boston, MA

In 2014 the transit authority in Boston launched a multi-year bystander intervention campaign. The campaign includes posters in subways and police officers handing out information cards to all subway riders during April Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The campaign was designed in coordination with BARCC (Boston Area Rape Crisis Center).  Materials, including the most recent posters, can be found here

London, UK

Hollaback London sits on the advisory board of Project Guardian. Project Guardian is a long-term project involving BTP, Transport for London (TfL), Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police, which aims to reduce unwanted sexual behavior on public transport in London. According to the TfL safety and security survey, around 15% of females have experienced unwanted sexual behavior on the network, with around 90% not reporting it to police. One of the most common reasons for not reporting it is because they didn’t think it was serious enough. Project Guardian focuses on increasing awareness and confidence amongst the public to report unwanted sexual behavior to the police or members of staff, particularly those offenses which are often unreported, such as sexual touching, exposure, lewd comments, leering and harassment. 

They have a new text number for text reporting and have retrained over 2000 officers and TfL staff that patrol the transport system in dealing with sexual offenses better, they are also working with transport contractors to also roll this training out further (TfL is the London state-run one, their buses are run by private companies so their drivers are employees of Abellio, Arriva etc).

Their messaging which Hollaback! London helped to develop is:

If you choose to report any incident of a sexual nature to the police or a member of rail staff, you will be always be believed and taken seriously, no matter where you are in the country.”

As of 2017, the campaign led to 1,200 arrests.

Jakarta, Indonesia

In 2018, Hollaback! Jakarta and partner organizations conducted a nationwide survey of 62,000 people in 2018 on harassment in public space that found that women were 13 times more likely to experience harassment on public transport than men and that sexual harassment on public transport was common.

As a result of the survey, they formed a group called Koalisi Ruang Publik Aman (KRPA or the Coalition for Safe Public Space).  The Coalition consists of DearCatcallers Indonesia, Hollaback! Jakarta, Jakarta Feminist Association, perEMPUan, Yayasan Kalyana Mitra, and Yayasan Lentera Sintas Indonesia. The aim of the coalition is to end sexual violence in public places and ensure safe public space for girls, women, and other vulnerable groups.

For the 16 Days of Activism in 2019, KRPA hosted a press conference to discuss the results of the survey together with public transportation stakeholders in Indonesia. Present at the event were representatives from the MRT, TransJakarta Busway, Commuter Line Indonesia, the Jakarta Transportation Management Agency (BPTJ), and also the ridesharing apps Grab and GOJEK. 

Hollaback! Jakarta also trained managers of the new (and inaugural) Jakarta MRT stations on bystander intervention and sexual harassment.

Are you aware of other cities where they have tried different approaches? Let us know at [email protected]

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