TW: Sexual Harassment
As part of the campaign, Rail Delivery Group have been travelling around UK train stations, hosting an immersive Virtual Reality (VR) experience, designed to encourage bystander reporting. The campaign was created in light of a recent survey commissioned by British Transport Police, which found over a third of women have been victims of sexual harassment while travelling by train or tube.
Anyone visiting Newcastle Central Station was invited to take part in the campaign and put on a VR headset. Three different scenarios were played, in which you witnessed ways that sexual harassment can take place and how, as a bystander, you can prevent it.
The first scenario was focused on prolonged staring – it began with a woman sat by herself on a train. A man came and sat across from her and would not stop staring. After a while, the woman moved to a different carriage, but was followed by the man, who continued to stare at her. When watching the VR, you could hear the inner monologue of the woman – she was frightened and unsettled. Eventually, another passenger saw what was happening and offered to swap seats with the woman.
I was shocked at how real watching this scenario felt – the immersive element of VR made it much more emotionally affective than watching a normal video ever could; it truly felt like the man’s eyes were on me. Having been in situations very similar to this myself, watching the scenario gave me goosebumps.
The next scenarios were similar to this, with the second taking place on a train station platform, in which a man would not leave a woman alone, asking her incessant, invasive questions. The third involved a group of men, catcalling, and making sexual comments about a woman sat next to them on a train. Both scenarios ended by showing ways that bystanders can help, such as creating a distraction and asking an unrelated question: “what’s the time?”, “do you know what the next station is?”. Or standing/sitting between the harasser and victim. And, if it’s safe to do so, calling out the behaviour of the harasser.
If it’s not safe to undertake any of these actions, you can report inappropriate behaviour to British Transport Police by texting 61016 or via the Railway Guardian App.
Whilst at Central Station, I spoke to Daniel Mann, Director of Industry Operations at Rail Delivery Group. I was interested to know why the situations within the campaign were retained to public transport – especially since I’ve experienced sexual harassment in clubs/bars more frequently than anywhere else. Mann said although Rail Delivery Group recognise that sexual harassment isn’t unique to public transport, they want everyone to feel safe when travelling on their network. The campaign is about raising awareness and empowering people to recognise, intervene, and report any signs of sexual harassment.
In February 2022, Our Streets Student Safety Survey found that out of the 96 Newcastle University students who took part in the survey, 35 have experienced some form of public sexual harassment.
Furthermore, between January and May 2022, NUSU's It Happens Here Society ran a #DoBetterNCLUniversity campaign. They found that 76.2% of survey respondents reported that they have been, or know someone who has been, sexually assaulted whilst at Newcastle University. Yet, 60.5% of the same respondents did not report their assault.
The results of these surveys reveal the potency of anti-sexual harassment campaigns in raising much-needed social awareness and prevention around this issue. Sexual harassment can happen anywhere to anyone, so knowing how to spot it, and what you can do to help, is valuable knowledge for all.