Tackling Sexual Harassment On England's Transit

A survey showed British female commuters fear sexual harassment. Transit inspector Ricky Twyford spoke with guest host Susan Stamberg about Project Guardian.

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SUSAN STAMBERG, HOST:

At one time or another, women who ride public transportation experience sexual harassment: A stranger who stands too close, speaks too provocatively, touches. Cities like Boston and New York are using posters and announcements, urging bus and train riders to keep their hands to themselves. Now in London, transit police are rolling out a new program called Project Guardian. The British Transport Police, or BTP, is partnering with women's groups to re-train officers on how to respond to sexual harassment. They're also encouraging women to Report it. BTP Inspector Ricky Twyford is one of the leaders of Project Guardian. He joins us from our studios in London. Good morning to you.

RICKY TWYFORD: Good morning to you.

STAMBERG: And tell us why now? What is it that's made the BTP decide to really go after sexual harassment on public transit? Have there been more complaints lately?

TWYFORD: It's not that there's been more complaints, no. In fact, it's quite the opposite. We're seen a lack of confidence or awareness in those who are subjected to this behavior to actually report it to the police. That, coupled with some information from some women's groups we have collated with on this project, gives us our driver behind this action.

STAMBERG: Yeah, one of those groups calls itself Everyday Sexism, and they are collecting stories from women. Here's what they're collecting:

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I don't know. It just scared me so much I didn't want to trouble anyone about it. And I didn't get off. I didn't shout at him or anything. It was normal to just sort of be quiet about something like that.

STAMBERG: Yeah. Project Guardian wants women to begin to speak up and tell police about it. What kind of harassment - by the way, I say harassment, you say harassment, oysters, oysters - each is equally acceptable - what kinds of experiences are they talking about?

TWYFORD: Some of the most common things we see are among these sexually touching, exposure-type offenses, verbal harassment, other lewd or staring harassment-type behaviors which people experience.

STAMBERG: And then how would you train the police? What then do they do once they get this information?

TWYFORD: We've looked at the type of behaviors which are displayed by those individuals who are committing or about to commit these type of offensives. Then we've trained our officers in what to look for so we can deploy them by plainclothes and in uniform to try and prevent these offenses occurring before they happen.

STAMBERG: So, you're putting more people on site.

TWYFORD: Absolutely.

STAMBERG: How has this program been going so far? What kind of response are you getting?

TWYFORD: We've conducted a weeklong Twitter chat and we've had hundreds of tweets. Every single one to the number being positive. So, the reaction from the public has been absolutely first class.

STAMBERG: Thank you very much. Ricky Twyford is an inspector with the British Transport Police. We appreciate your time, sir.

TWYFORD: You're very welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STAMBERG: This is NPR News.

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