Last month Transport for London released a video which was a part of a wider campaign called “Report it to stop it’’ which aims to encourage people to report unwanted sexual behavior on public transport. The ad itself follows a woman as she experiences repeated example of this behaviour and asks you to decide at which point you would report it. If you haven’t seen the ad, you can watch it here.
The following is our group discussion, for which this advert was the initial starting point. Pull up a chair and join the conversation:
BEA: I liked the ad – I liked how it underlined that what constitutes sexual assault is nuanced.
PRI: Yeah exactly. I physically felt uncomfortable by what was being shown visually, but I was actually more drawn in by the narration because it made the point of repeatedly asking you think about at what point would you report it.
EDI: I like the fact that it made me feel uncomfortable. It really made me think too – when *is* it the right time to call it out? I have a permanent resting bitch face so no one ever approaches me (I feel like they just wouldn’t), but I’ve never thought about what I would do if they did before.
SOPHIE: I think the thing I noticed the most is that the woman almost looks apologetic….she moves to avoid the situation rather than saying anything
EDI: YES – as if it were her fault in some way, which is kind of a commentary on how we treat sexual harassment in this country.
PRI: YES! Going purely on my personal experience here, but I don’t think I have ever seen someone challenge any kind of verbal harassment or staring on public transport. It’s pretty much a given, especially in NY, that you will get some kind of comment or unashamed staring. And asking around, you don’t have to look far to find someone who has experienced it. So the shocking thing is that it’s not shocking at all.
EVE: I wouldn’t say she looked apologetic, just more hopeless – but definitely in agreement with how this leads to ‘just avoid the situation’, rather than confront it…because she feels there isn’t much she can do to better the situation?
SOPHIE: It’s mad that it’s quite obvious what’s happening but no one says anything. And it’s interesting from the man’s perspective – does he do it because he knows it’s bad but also knows no one will say anything or because he genuinely thinks it’s ok?
EDI: Has anyone had a personal experience where it’s actually gotten as extreme as it is in the video? Like, to the point of touching?
SOPHIE: I’ve had a couple of incidents
BEA: Yeah when I was younger I remember some man trying to do a drive-by kiss on his scooter – I did not do anything, I just made an active effort not to be alone when walking back from school, which looking back, is all kinds of messed up.
PRI: Yeah that’s the thing, looking back I remember so many stories from friends just kind of mentioning or laughing off incidents.
BETHAN: Yes. Not on public transport but when I was 13 someone pulled me into an alleyway – not as extreme as it sounds but it has haunted me since.
EDI: Did you report it? Or did you just try and forget about it as soon as?
BETHAN: No not at all, I was so worried. I was walking home in my school uniform and someone pulled me aside in a threatening way. He said that he knew people from my school that were sluts and I should follow him and he eventually asked if I was going to give him head. It freaked me out so I screamed ‘I’m only 11’ although I actually was 13 and then I just ran away. Ever since I have just tried to ignore it, but have been “extra” alert when walking past the estate where it happened and the alleyway that he took me to.
EDI: It’s stayed with you. I’m sure he didn’t even think about that – and has done it to many girls since!
PRI: I think it’s almost subconscious now, having to be that extra level of being ‘alert’ most of the time you are out and alone.
EDI:It’s strange how he tried to shift the blame before he even committed the crime “I’ve heard girls from your school are sluts”, as if that makes it ok or even a reason to pull a girl off the street.
BETHAN: Yeah I was only 13 and as nothing actually happened or came from it, I didn’t feel I could report anything at the time but I will never forget it.
PRI: So this is the thing that jumped out at me about the advert and the voiceover specifically…that HUGE grey area surrounding what can and cannot be ‘justified’ as harassment.
BETHAN: So true, it’s exactly what reminded me of that. That there was no rape or anything specifically violent and so that has you thinking ‘oh wait is that a crime?’ And I went home feeling scared and petrified but not in a place to say something had happened just because someone had cornered me and demanded ‘head’ But I was 12/13 years old back then and not as assertive as I am now. I’m still shaken up by it thinking ‘oh it was probably normal as I was wearing a tight skirt.’
PRI: Personally, I still find myself putting it down to other things or just tolerating it. And as much as I think the campaign is powerful and necessary…it isn’t preventative. Something happens first and then you are encouraged to report it.
EVE: Great point Pri – I think overall it’s a great campaign, and it is good work from TFL for recognising an issue suffered by women on transport worldwide. But why must it be us reporting the issue, and not TFL or some other body launching a campaign to combat the cause of these sexual harassment crimes? Why are we expected to accept sexual harassment as a given?
BETHAN: I think there needs to be a more clear definition of harassment and moving towards what it entails and how it makes you feel.
SOPHIE: I think there’s a bit of a contradiction in mentality in a way, if you were to describe an incident to a friend, it would be completely agreed that it’s awful and unacceptable etc but maybe not quite enough to report it. I’ll be really honest, I would feel like I was wasting police time if I reported something…which is a terrible to think, I know.
BEA: Same or even more so of my own time…and dragging up bad memories for no reason
BETHAN: I agree, and that is exactly how I felt as when I was younger as it didn’t seem serious to me then.
PRI: I think that comes from the fact that it is so common too, especially in more subtle ways. I feel almost desensitized to it…. like when I think back to being in school and hearing friends talk about being followed or seeing men masturbate on the tube at them…and just kind of laughing it off. Now I look back and think…we were SO YOUNG and already, it was like…deal with it.
EDI: Yeah – I feel like there’s a lot of outcry, and then a lot of backlash against that outcry. And I think that’s because a lot of it doesn’t have any ‘form’ to it. If people knew who to go to at each stage – e.g. something minor happened, so I need someone to remove that person from the area. Or something major happened, and it’s a crime and I need justice – then I think people wouldn’t feel as bad as they make themselves feel. You should never feel bad for wasting police time.
PRI:I think one of the ways this campaign handles that well is that it addresses that grey area. It says “You don’t have to prove that it was a criminal offense or intentional to report it, we can investigate that for you…..No incident is too small or trivial. ” I think it does a good job of acknowledging those exact concerns or reasons why people don’t report it.
SOPHIE: I think one of the MAJOR issues of this whole thing, whether it be a lecherous comment or full on sexual assault, is that it’s almost from a female perspective. Either in a helpful way, like this advert or in a blaming way. There’s very rarely any kind of male orientated campaigning like ‘HEY women don’t like it. Don’t do it.’ Or about respect or consent or anything.
BETHAN: That is spot on; a friend of mine had her drink spiked and it came to not feeling able to report it as it was her fault for being out drunk alone and vulnerable rather than it being the issue of a perpetrator. And an English judge the other week stated that it was a woman’s fault for going out dressed provocatively and therefore her “fault” for being raped, rather than ‘oh actually the fault is with the rapist for… being a rapist.’
EVE: This is how slutwalk started! A Canadian police officer advised against women wearing skirts in order to avoid sex attacks. Because you know…the skirt is just inviting all kinds of trouble.
SOPHIE: I saw this the other day on BuzzFeed about these ‘Anti-Rape Posters’ and there’s so much victim blaming and complete lack of sensitivity. http://www.buzzfeed.com/rossalynwarren/we-asked-an-expert-what-was-wrong-with-these-anti-rape-poste
EVE: Some of these posters are just shockingly bad. Drunk girls are asking for rape? IT MAKES ME SO ANGRY! I will get pissed as a fart and walk down the bloody street naked if I want to. This is not an INVITATION for rape.
EDI: Yes! I read that too. A lot of them had the kind of ‘well, you shouldn’t have got so drunk and left your friends and got into an unlicensed taxi’ angle. And a lot of people were mad. But there was this one GIRL in the comments saying “Not saying that’s it’s girls’ fault BUT we should take precautions.’’ Obviously everyone responded to her like “you’re victim blaming by saying women should have to take any precautions at all.” But does she have a point? Should we take precautions but hold the men fully responsible?? (Disclaimer – I don’t agree with her point whatsoever)
BETHAN: Why should women feel the responsibility for looking after themselves and not becoming victims???
PRI: I think the second ‘responsibility’ comes into it, for women, it becomes SO much easier to go into that spiral of ‘oh it was kind of my fault because I didn’t/did do x, y, z.” And so the issue becomes further internalized.
BETHAN: At what point should it be accepted that we live in a patriarchy and therefore should dress like nuns rather than as we feel comfortable…just in case we encounter someone with the disposition to rape someone.
SOPHIE: That is 100% bullshit. For so many reasons. That’s like saying, hmmm well you wouldn’t have been burgled if you didn’t have such nice stuff or maybe you wouldn’t have been knocked over if you hadn’t been using those pesky zebra crossings. At the end of the day, being drunk makes a woman more vulnerable but that means the man was even more cowardly for attacking a woman less able to look after herself. A good proportion of rapes are committed by men that knew the woman in some capacity anyway.
EDI:*clicks* exactly. Excellent use of the word pesky too.
PRI: YES Sophie.
BETHAN: It makes me so infuriated that victims of sexual assault are made to feel at fault or to blame as they were out with friends enjoying themselves or wanting to feel like they look good.
EDI: Exactly – I’m somehow able to walk around my bf’s house naked without him raping me all the time, yet we’re just to accept that a small proportion of men haven’t been raised right – so be a lady and deal with it.
SOPHIE: It’s just such hypocrisy, like a woman is at fault when she drinks however much (which is a completely socially accepted pastime) which may or may not alter her ability to control her actions and yet a man loses all control of his behavior, morality, compassion, humanity and SHE’S still at fault?!
EDI: There needs to be a lesson for boys and girls about sexual harassment as part of sex ed, I found a lot of it at school was aimed at girls anyway.
BETHAN: Yes Sophie!!!
EDI: By the way, they’ve literally erected the ugliest pop-up wall things for men to piss against in the centre of town because they can’t control themselves when they’re drunk. But when a woman can’t control herself because she’s drunk? Well, she’ll have to deal with it herself.
PRI: I think if girls felt more empowered to call it out and embarrass the people making them feel uncomfortable it would have a positive knock on effect. But the moment you have any shred of feeling like it is your fault or you brought it on in any way, you don’t feel like you have the right to say something. Recently I was on the train to work and had this man opposite who just stared at my chest and the legs of the girl next to me, so blatantly and constantly. And it wasn’t a few tube stops, it was an hour long train journey and still I said nothing…and it really made me think. Would I feel more justified and empowered to say something had there been something physically done to me?
EVE: And do you know what? If you were to have said “excuse me, I can’t help but notice you’re rather fixated on this woman’s legs mate” you may have got a response along the lines of “no I’m not, you’re crazy” or “just because I’m not checking you out…bitch”.
SOPHIE: I think a lot of that type of thing boils down to the fact that men are almost indoctrinated to see women as objects
EVE: So so sad Sophie. But true! Anyone want to see a fucking depressing stupid youtube video? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_8vJWVE7SE 13 things men think about women but never say. It’s mainly body parts BTW (surprise!). And fuck me, this presenter needs to just…not. Point being – objectification of women.
SOPHIE: Very few people are monsters or mentally ill. And I bet, in all likelihood, that guy was pretty normal and would never physically do anything to anyone because that is, relatively, rare, but he sees women as objects not people. I think this issue is all about the mentality of men. Brutal or violent or calculated people are relatively rare, I would think a lot of it comes from objectification of women. If you grow up thinking that women are sexual objects for taking, that are valued by their body, then that surely has an effect on men? If young girls grow up thinking they need to look like a model because that’s all they see, then it’s logical that some men might think ‘well women exist for their beauty’. Obviously that’s a massive generalisation and it’s more complex than that …but it’s a huge part of it.
EVE: Personally, I’d be hesitant to put this whole issue down to “the mentality of men”. I’d say it has just as much to do with environment: we grow up seeing women as objects, and that may have more of an impact than the mentality of men. We are products of our environment, and sadly we grow up in a world where men take on the protector, provider role while women should look pleasing to this strong male gaze and tend to their needs – sexual needs and all. As they’re the males, they can touch…right?
EDI: I think my final thoughts are: Education needs to be changed BOYS and GIRLS are both taught about why you should never assault someone, as opposed to just GIRLS being told what to do if they’re in that situation. And clear definitions need to be made about what is harassment, and who do I go to when I feel I’ve experienced it without feeling like I’m wasting everyone’s time. I think that’s actually pretty important for men too, who are really unlikely to report any sexual assault/harassment. FYI: http://report-it.tumblr.com/#section-home