16 FEBRUARY 2015

‘It isn’t serious enough’. ‘The police haven’t got time to deal with it’. ‘I don’t know how to report it’. ‘How could they catch them’? ‘I’m so embarrassed’.

The reasons people don’t want to report an unwanted sexual experience on public transport are entirely understandable. Public transport is a safe, reliable and efficient way of commuting to work, travelling to school or getting around, and being subjected to any form of unwanted sexual behaviour shouldn’t be part of that experience.

In November 2012, a survey conducted by Transport for London highlighted a serious issue. Nearly 10 per cent of all respondents reported experiencing some form of unwanted sexual experience when travelling on public transport in London. This rose to 15 per cent for women. On average, 95 per cent of those who had experienced unwanted sexual behaviour chose not to report it to the police. The sort of things they experienced are as varied as the reasons for not reporting: sexual assault, exposure, public masturbation, sexual comments, being followed or harassed. Almost all of these are criminal offences.

When we saw the results of the survey, we knew we had to do more. Between British Transport Police, the Metropolitan Police and Transport for London, we responded with Project Guardian. The aim was to address the fact that this criminal activity is happening, but victims and witnesses don’t know how to report it, or aren’t confident enough to do so. We were lucky enough to receive support for the project from End Violence Against Women Coalition, Hollaback UK and Everyday Sexism Project. They all acted as ‘critical friends’ and made sure everything put in place had the victim’s needs at its heart.

We worked with focus groups to fully understand why people don’t report unwanted sexual behaviour when it happens to them. We also looked at patterns of offending to find out more about how offenders use the transport network.

holla back and btp

British Transport police with The Everyday Sexism Project, End Violence against Women Coalition and Hollaback London who have been key advisers to the Project Guardian team.

A vital part of the project was ensuring everything was in place so people who reported their experiences to the police would be glad they did, confident in our response and reassured that we would do everything possible to catch offenders.

We did this by ensuring officers received appropriate training, reviewed our processes and made it easier for victims to report their experiences to us. Most importantly, we maximised every opportunity to prevent this behaviour and to bring offenders to justice.

By highlighting the problem through social media and traditional media, people who have experienced this realised they are not alone. For some, it gave them the strength to take that important step of reporting what happened to them. For others, it provided support they didn’t know was available.

Sexual offences are not carried out by opportunists. They travel with the intention of offending. Our officers travel with the intention of stopping them. Plain clothed officers, trained in assessing people’s behaviour, identify potential offenders and follow them. Uniformed officers are a deterrent and provide reassurance to passengers. Specialist detectives investigate every report of crime. They use witnesses, intelligence, CCTV and Oyster card records to track down offenders and bring them to justice. Once offenders are identified and dealt with by the criminal justice system, we can put plans in place to prevent them re-offending.

Project Guardian is making in-roads. Since its inception we’ve received almost 700 extra reports and caught 150 more offenders than in the same period before the project began.  The start is positive. The battle goes on.

Ricky Twyford, Inspector with British Transport Police and Project Guardian Manager.

Ricky Twyford, Inspector with British Transport PoliceABOUT AUTHOR 

Ricky Twyford is an Inspector with British Transport Police and Project Guardian Manager.