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Transit riders at the Vancouver downtown transit station on Granville and West Georgia on August 14, 2013. Police are launching an awareness campaign in response to a spike in incidents of sexual assault and harassment. (Jimmy Jeong For The Globe and Mail)
Transit riders at the Vancouver downtown transit station on Granville and West Georgia on August 14, 2013. Police are launching an awareness campaign in response to a spike in incidents of sexual assault and harassment. (Jimmy Jeong For The Globe and Mail)

Sexual assaults, harassment on the rise on B.C. public transit Add to ...

Metro Vancouver’s Transit Police will launch a sexual assault awareness campaign that includes new tools for reporting crime following an increase of lascivious incidents on the public transit system.

Transit Police say the incidents include reports of a man rubbing up against a female passenger on a bus “in a sexual manner”; a man forcing himself on to a foreign exchange student at a Surrey SkyTrain station, kissing and hugging her; and a man surreptitiously taking photos up the skirts of women at a North Vancouver SeaBus terminal.

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There were 57 reported sexual offences on the transit system in the first half of 2013 and 75 in the second half, Transit Police spokeswoman Anne Drennan said Monday. The final tally of 132 is slightly higher than the 2012 total.

Ms. Drennan emphasized these figures only count sexual offences reported to Transit Police: Many are reported to jurisdictional police, and more still not reported at all.

“We know that it’s likely there are only one in 10 incidents that are reported,” she said. “This is typical for the majority of offences anywhere, but we know that on the system, this is very much an underreported offence.”

As well, the force has received countless reports through unofficial anecdotes, intelligence and women’s support organizations, who say, for example, that they receive numerous complaints every week of women being sexually assaulted or harassed on the transit system, Ms. Drennan said. “The numbers are not really indicative of the problem, but we know from what we hear from various sources that it is on the rise.”

Katie Nordgren and Alexa Dredge, students from Simon Fraser University’s department of gender, sexuality and women’s studies, started a blog last year to gather and post personal stories of harassment on TransLink vehicles or property.

The Harassment on TransLink posts, which continue to be added on a frequent basis, tell similar stories: The victims are typically young women, either alone or with a friend; the perpetrators are often inebriated or otherwise obnoxious men. Reports include men exposing themselves on buses and SkyTrains and groping and making lewd comments to women.

Some victims said they did not report the lewd or offensive behaviour because they didn’t feel anything would be done about it; some were scared to; others said they did report it and nothing happened.

Ms. Drennan stressed the need for every victim to report such incidents so police can follow through and investigate. Many of these offenders are repeat offenders, she said, and witness accounts without victim statements are not enough.

Sebastian Ramon Lopez, a 37-year-old White Rock man recently charged with sexual assault following a Jan. 8 incident on a Surrey-bound bus, had about 150 previous police contacts, nearly 50 of those with Transit Police.

“If we don’t have a victim giving us a statement, it’s very, very difficult for us to take it to the charging stage and get him to court,” Ms. Drennan said.

“This time, we are very pleased we had the evidence required to have him charged.”

New tools to report incidents of harassment include non-emergency text messaging – 87-77-77, already in operation – and a Transit Police mobile app expected to launch next month.

Meanwhile, Women Transforming Cities, an advocacy group dedicated to making Vancouver more equitable by engaging women in decision and policy making, was scheduled to hold a public forum Monday evening at the University of British Columbia on improving public transit safety for women and girls.

Founder and former Vancouver city councillor Ellen Woodsworth said the university’s alma mater society had approached the group months ago, at the height of the sex assaults on campus, to discuss the issue and come up with solutions.

“There’s not been a strong campaign to actually stop the violence, stop the bullying, stop the sexual harassment, and put in place active measures to ensure it won’t happen again,” Ms. Woodsworth said Monday.

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