Activist calls on Sadiq Khan to make vital changes to protect women and girls on public transport

Written by Leah Sinclair

Activist Zan Moon has sent an open letter to Sadiq Khan calling for better safety measures to protect women and girls on public transport after receiving “20 pages worth” of sexual harassment testimonies online.

This article includes accounts of sexual harassment that some readers may find distressing.

How many of us know someone who has been verbally or sexually assaulted on public transport?

Chances are we know one too many and may have even experienced it ourselves – and the stats show that it’s a lot more common than we’d like to believe.

In 2020, a YouGov poll found more than half of London women have experienced sexual harassment on London transport services. Meanwhile, official figures show reports of sexual harassment on public transport in London jumped 61% last summer compared to before the pandemic.

From upskirting to stalking, these various forms of harassment are rife in London and it’s something that many women and girls of various ages have either experienced or are likely to experience – and one woman is working to change that.

Zan Moon, the founder of online platform Screengrab Them, which exposes online harassment, misogyny and coercion through picture evidence, has sent a letter to Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, urging him to tackle misogynistic abuse that takes place on London transport while sharing a number of anonymous testimonies from women and girls who’ve experienced it firsthand.

In the 22-page dossier, sent on Sunday, Moon addresses the lack of safeguarding for women and girls whilst travelling on TfL services, calling the local government body a “hotbed for harassment” and highlighting that “clearly not enough is being done to protect women given 125 more women have been killed in the UK in the year since the death of Sarah Everard.”

“I experienced serious sexual and homophobic harassment in January on the Tube with my girlfriend, whereby a man verbally assaulted us and said he wouldn’t believe that we were lesbians until we fuck each other in front of everyone on the Tube,” Moon tells Stylist.

“I reported it and was told that the CCTV footage only lasts for 72 hours and they had lost any evidence or [hope of] finding him, which really infuriated me.”

Zan Moon

As a result of this and after seeing reports of the numerous deaths of women, including Hina Bashir and Zara Aleena, Moon decided to ask women to share their experiences of being sexually assaulted via a Google Form.

“I put a post on social media last Monday asking people to come forward with any assault they faced on Transport for London services. Within a week, I had 20 pages worth of testimonies from women as young as 11. So I think that really speaks volumes.”

Moon says seeing the responses was both “saddening and heartbreaking” but “completely unsurprising and very relatable”.

“I’m reading this and it’s sad but it almost just felt like I’m reading my day-to-day life because it’s just so normalised in society. I’m almost not shocked at some of the stuff that was being said,” she says.

The number of responses prompted Moon to send the letter to Khan, where she shared her disappointment around the way male violence against women and girls is being treated and also the long list of testimonies she received, which were sectioned into exposing/self-gratification and sexual harassment to non-consensual touching and stalking.

One person detailed their experience of non-consensual pressing, writing: “I felt something poking between my bum cheeks and assumed it was a shopping bag and a mistake but realised it was a man’s hand. I moved away. As I got off he tried to hump me.”

Another shared how a man was taking pictures of her on a train. “Winter on the Central line; I was wearing a dress and as I walked past a man sitting down he took photos up my skirt. For the rest of the journey, he proceeded to take photos and most likely videos of me from head to toe.”

Moon says she hopes the letter will help other women to come forward but she wants to meet with the mayor to discuss the attitudes and strategies to better protect women and girls on public transport.

“There are some really simple fixes like fixing your CCTV system, putting more female officers on the Tube at night, harassment buttons, having TfL partner with gyms to provide free self-defence classes for women,” she says.

“These are all things that are really simple fixes that the mayor could do right now that would make serious change.”

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: “Violence against women is an epidemic across our country, and the Mayor is clear that it’s completely unacceptable that women and girls face this vile, criminal behaviour when they are going about their day on public transport in our city.

“The Mayor is working with TfL and the police to take a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of sexual harassment across the whole network, and stamp this predatory behaviour out. Sadiq is clear that violence and harassment towards women is a deep cultural problem in our society, and we must not simply respond to male violence against women and girls, but prevent it, which is why he continues to take action by funding initiatives to address the behaviour of at-risk offenders to prevent incidents happening.

“A lot of work still needs to be done, but tackling violence against women and girls remains an absolute priority and the Mayor is determined to ensure that every woman and girl is safe, and feels safe – whatever the time of day and wherever they are in the capital.”

Siwan Hayward, TfL’s director of compliance, policing, operations and security, said: “We operate a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of unwanted sexual behaviour and sexual harassment on London’s public transport network and are committed to ensuring that women and girls feel safe while travelling on the network. 

“With our partners in the British Transport Police, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) and City of London Police we are committed to making travel safer for women and girls. We support the Mayor’s calls to make sexual harassment in public spaces a criminal offence.

“We have a bold and clear sexual harassment campaign on our network which names the behaviours we will not tolerate. As well as proactive police patrols taking place across public transport, we work with the police to pursue all sexual harassment offences using our extensive network of CCTV and will be continuing to deliver sexual harassment training to all frontline staff.

“Everyone should feel safe and be safe when travelling around London at all times and the safety of women and girls is an absolute priority for us. Tackling sexual harassment is an essential part of this and we continue to invest in transport policing to prevent and tackle sexual harassment across our networks. We ask those that experience or witness sexual harassment to report it so we can work to prevent it and to take action against perpetrators.”

Image: Getty; Zan Moon

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