BC Transit launches a new campaign to make commuting safer

Photo by Aasim Raza

Jasmine Chahal, third year SFU student, like many other frequent female transit users, does not feel safe and protected on public transit.

”I have to be very observant," she said. "When my class ends at 8 p.m., I wait half an hour just for my cousin to join me on the SkyTrain. I would rather have someone I know, in case something does happen.”

Her fears are grounded in statistics. Last year alone, a total of 132 sexual offences was reported, according to Transit Police.

A bus driver being attended to after an assault at Surrey Central Sky Train Station on Feb 3, 2014. Video by bcnewsvideo on YouTube.

Now, to effectively alleviate such concerns,TransLink has initiated a sexual offence awareness campaign to deal with sexual offences anywhere on transit.

“We began in Dec 2013 with a presentation to facilitators, supervisors, instructors, professors from all educational institutions with ESL program. We brought them all together and provided them with the information and tools that they would need to provide the information to their students about sexual offences on transit,” Transit Police Media Advisor Anne Drennan said.

Harassment incidents are featured frequently on the Harassment on TransLink website where hapless victims of abuse typically young women share their posts detailing their horrid experiences on transit.

One such unsuspecting victim was Tina Choy, an International student, who while commuting from SFU’s Burnaby campus was groped by a sexual predator.

“I was switching the trains when a guy just walked right up to me and fondled my breasts.”

Transit started out their campaign with the ESL students, as they are the most often targeted. Drennan says the campaign has been very well received.

“We know that ESL students are particular targets of sexual predators perhaps because they are seen as being more vulnerable because English is not their first language and very often they don’t report these offences perhaps because of language issues," she said. "Or perhaps because of cultural issues, embarrassment, loss of face or because of mistrust of police in general or just because they don’t know who to tell and how to go about telling somebody.”

The first part of the campaign was a YouTube video to raise awareness on what kind of behaviour is not accepted, should not be tolerated, why it is important to report these offences, how to report them and who to report them to.

“It goes through the different kinds of offences, and things people should not put up with on the transit system,” Drennan said.

The video also goes through all the different avenues explaining everything in minute detail so that people know who to approach to report these occurrences to and what kind of information to share.

The second part of the campaign was launch of the text messaging code, 87-77-77 which allows people to text transit police discreetly with information in real time concerning any harassment on public transit. 

Transit Police also launched a free app that will help people provide information in real-time to transit police.

The app will also give people the ability to pull up information about those most wanted on transit system and mapping of crimes on the transit system so that they know where they are most prevalent.

Lastly, new cameras have also been installed in SkyTrains and buses to help reduce the crime rate.

“It gives us the ability...to pull up pictures of that suspect and either identify him through investigative means or by putting the pictures publicly and asking the public's assistance,” Drennan said.

In the wake of growing sexual assault and harassment offences, TransLink’s motto has become “See something, say something,” but how effective they will be to commuters remains to be seen.

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