The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) and the sexual and domestic violence prevention center, Peace Over Violence, launched a multi-faceted campaign to stop harassment on Metro buses and trains.
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The Metro system is safe with 1.4 million boardings on a typical weekday and a rate of three serious crimes per one million boardings, according to Metro officials. However, the agency has learned through its semi-annual Customer Satisfaction Survey that in a six-month period an unacceptably high percentage of riders reported experiencing unwanted sexual behavior including, but not limited to, touching, exposure or inappropriate comments. The majority of incidents involved men harassing women, however, girls, boys and men also reported being harassed.
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“Metro customers deserve to travel in a safe environment free from harassment," said Los Angeles Mayor and Metro Board Chair Eric Garcetti. “Metro wants riders to know that unwanted sexual behavior will not be tolerated on its buses and trains, and help and support is available to victims of harassment."
Metro is one of the few transit providers in the world that surveys its customers on sexual harassment and the latest results indicate 22 percent of respondents said they had experienced sexual harassment. Despite that high percentage, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) Transit Policing Division (TPD), which patrols the Metro system, received only 99 official reports of unwanted sexual conduct involving exposure, touching or inappropriate comments in 2014.
“That rate of reporting is woefully low and indicates that transit customers do not have faith that such behavior can be addressed,” said Metro Board member and Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.
In response to the latest data, Metro has joined with Peace Over Violence, an organization dedicated to ending sexual, domestic and interpersonal violence, to launch “It’s Off Limits,” a system-wide campaign that identifies sexual harassment as unwanted touching, comments and gestures and makes it clear that such behavior is unacceptable. Bus and train printed advertisements encourage passengers “if you experience it or see it – report it. Call 1.888-950-SAFE.”
“Perpetrators of sexual crimes often continue their assaults if they are not caught, sometimes becoming bolder and violent,” said Peace Over Violence Executive Director Patti Giggans. “Reporting the crime means the assaulter can be caught before he victimizes other innocent women and girls.”
Passengers are encouraged to report incidents to the Sheriff’s hotline at 1.888.950.SAFE (7233) or 911. As part of the system-wide campaign, Metro upgraded its smartphone app, LA Metro Transit Watch, to include a report of “Indecent Exposure,” “Sexual Assault-Physical” and “Sexual Harassment-Non-Physical.” LA Metro Transit Watch has a feature allowing a reporting person to snap a photograph of a suspect safely without activating the camera’s flash. More than 80% of Metro riders carry cellular telephones and about half of Metro passengers have smartphones.
“With a description of the suspect and the time and place of the assault, Sheriff’s investigators have a better opportunity to make an arrest of a sexual criminal,” said TPD Chief Ronine Anda.
In coordination with LASD, Metro has begun training all front-line personnel, bus and train operators, maintenance and custodial personnel, in a procedure to help victims who want to make a report.
To further expand the message of reporting sexual harassment, Metro has produced a 30 second Public Service Announcement entitled “It’s Off Limits,” which will be shown online and submitted to Los Angeles television stations.
In launching the campaign, the Metro Board authorized a multi-departmental Safe Space Task Force comprised of Metro departments to attack sexual assault on the system, a Community Roundtable to better connect Metro with its customers and to inform them of responses to the issue, a review of national best practices recognized by the American Public Transportation Association, update Metro’s Customer Code of Conduct to explicitly prohibit unwanted sexual attention and identity-based harassment and partner with appropriate local agencies to provide non-law enforcement support for victims.