A year after transit police began a campaign aimed at quelling a steady increase in the number of incidents of sexual intimidation in SkyTrains, buses and stations, reports of harassment have spiked 26 per cent.
But Carolyn Baldridge, spokeswoman for the transit police, said the increase likely had more to do with growing awareness than with more people being harassed. "What we're trying to do is generate awareness, which generates more reporting, and that is our success measure," she said. Of the 2,370 incidents reported to transit police through text messages and an app launched last year for the purpose, officers were dispatched 1,703 times. Ms. Baldridge could not say whether the increase in reports of harassment since 2013 also led to an increase in charges laid. However, another spokeswoman for the force noted there were 90 sexual assault complaints, versus 65 in 2013.
Metro Vancouver transit police were at the Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain station Monday morning along with the Vancouver chapter of Hollaback!, a U.S. non-profit organization aimed at ending street harassment globally.
The group is most known for its video 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman, which went viral last fall.
Hollaback! Vancouver has launched a campaign encouraging bystanders to intervene when witnessing harassment. On Monday, the transit police noted bystanders have an important role to play in making transit safer for women and vulnerable populations.
Last June, transit police introduced the OnDuty app to make it easier for passengers to report incidents of sexual intimidation.
OnDuty allows users to discreetly report harassment they experience or witness on transit. It is linked directly with the text message reporting service, which was launched in December, 2013. Ms. Baldridge said it has been downloaded almost 8,000 times, and the number of reports received each month continues to grow.
But for transit users, identifying a problem is not always easy because harassment can constitute a wide range of behaviours.
Both the transit police and Hollaback! Vancouver encourage people to report any behaviour that makes them uncomfortable.
"Sometimes it can even be a glare, and sometimes it's that conversation that makes people feel awkward," said transit police chief officer Neil Dubord.