Bystander intervention will play a critical role in the prevention of sex assaults on city buses and other public spaces, says an activist and head of an anti-street harassment group.
“This stuff happens in plain view of other people. Why are those people not doing anything about it?” said Hollaback! Ottawa director Julie Lalonde.
“And is it because they’re too afraid to? And if that’s the case, then we need to educate people on proactive, tangible things that they can do to prevent it from happening.”
Earlier this week, an Ottawa man facing charges for targeting young women on OC Transpo was hit with 15 new charges relating to another series of sexual assaults.
Buses, concerts, and other crowded venues are ideal locations for gropers, said Lalonde.
“It’s all about power and the idea that, ‘I’m going to put you in your place,’ or ‘I’m going to humiliate you and there’s nothing you can do about it.’ And when it comes to transit, often times, there is very little you can do about it, so they’re not wrong in their thinking on that part.”
Transpo management acknowledges sexual assaults have taken place on buses and other transit properties.
“We encourage all passengers that if you see anything, to report it,” said Dan Villeneuve, filling in for GM John Manconi.
Riders can press an emergency button on the bus, call 911, pick up a yellow emergency phone, or approach a driver, supervisor or transit law employee.
Fourteen incidents were filed with Transpo in 2012.
“Obviously, any incidents is too many,” said Villeneuve.
Various women’s groups are planning an Open Forum on Harassment on Transit, scheduled for May 15 at the Bronson Centre.
“We’re targeting all transit riders,” said Lalonde, adding teens, seniors, disabled passengers, young mothers, and people with alternative sexual lifestyles are welcome.
The idea for the forum, she said, has been in the works since meeting with city officials last month.
Women have been using the Hollaback! site to detail incidents of being groped, flashed or sexually harassed.
News of the arrest has prompted more to come forward, said Lalonde.
“I’ve never had a woman balk at the idea that harassment happens in a public space. Not once. Everyone’s like, ‘Yeah, you were taking the bus? Yeah, that happens all the time,’” she said.
The response from men, Lalonde said, ranges from “‘I didn’t know this was happening and I’m just appalled,’ to ‘Oh yeah, my wife told me that this happened to her the other day’ to the kind of ‘Oh there’s just no way, like you must be exaggerating.’”