Good morning, and thank you to Detective Chief Inspector Alison Evans for that introduction.
20 years ago, the United Nations met in Beijing to agree a plan to achieve greater equality for women around the world.
The result was the Beijing Declaration. It identified 12 areas of significant concern, including the burden of poverty borne by women, unequal access to education and training, and most relevant to today: violence against women.
Two decades on, the UN will meet in New York this spring to consider what progress has been made, and where further action is needed. Ahead of that meeting, today’s (20 January 2015) event is one of a series that the Government Equalities Office (GEO) is organising to get a UK perspective on women’s equality.
Record of improvement in UK
And we have made progress. Particularly in addressing the lower social and economic status of women, which in 1995 the UN cited as one reason women can be vulnerable to abuse.
By November 2014 the gender pay gap in this country had fallen to its lowest point in history, with more women in work than ever before. The European Commission’s recent report Gender Equality in the Workforce ranked the UK first in Europe for work flexibility - which helps women to balance their career and family responsibilities.
Since 2010 we’ve also strengthened the laws against domestic violence and stalking.
But the truth is that many women still routinely face the threat of harassment and violence. And it’s not just at home, or at the workplace, where this happens – It’s also a real problem as women travel about.
Violence on public transport
That’s why we wanted to hold this event; specifically to debate violence on transport.
Because although the Beijing Declaration lists violence against women as a threat to equality, it doesn’t mention that the use of public transport in particular poses dangers for women.
Being stuck on a moving bus or train with a determined offender is not only demeaning – it’s terrifying. And according to TfL, 1 in 7 female passengers aged over 16 have experienced sexual harassment on London’s public transport in the past 12 months, but only a tiny proportion then went on to report the experience to the police.
Recent data also shows there has been an increase in the number of sexual offences reported on our railways. These statistics are backed up by what women are saying, and it’s absolutely vital that women feel they can report incidents. If offenders feel they can get away with this abuse, the problem will just get worse.
So it’s great that Hollaback London are with us today, because they’ve given women in London a louder voice. The Hollaback website allows women to report when and where they have received harassment of any kind in London.
The map on their website allows us to see precisely where women have been targeted. And it shows how much of a challenge we face making public transport safe for women.
Secure stations scheme and project guardian
Having said that, we’ve made some real improvements to public transport in this country.
We’ve worked with British Transport Police on the secure stations scheme, because we know that well-designed stations can reduce opportunities for crime. Simple things – such as good lighting, can provide reassurance to passengers that stations are safe.
Other improvements, like the use of see-through fencing rather than solid walls, and clear sightlines from the ticket office to the platform, make a big difference to how passengers feel. So if a station operator can show the station is well-designed, well managed and the passengers feel safe, the station will be accredited and added to a list of certified secure stations.
We have also decided to include passenger safety considerations as part of rail franchises. Anyone bidding to operate a train service has to show they have plans in place to keep passengers safe from personal attacks.
I would also like to pay tribute to the ground-breaking work the BTP has done with Project Guardian in London. Inspector Ricky Twyford is here to talk more about it later, so I won’t steal his thunder, but Project Guardian aims to create a transport environment free from sexual harassment. The project focuses on encouraging victims to report crimes, alongside proactive police enforcement, and since its launch in 2013, we’ve seen dramatic increases in both confidence to report sexual crime and in the number of perpetrators being brought to justice.
So why are we getting more reports of sexual offences on our railways? It might be because – prompted by initiatives such as Project Guardian, and higher general awareness of sexual crime – people are simply reporting crime more. Which could mean that the real scale of sexual offending on public transport is only now being seen, or it might be because more crimes are being committed.
But our aim must be to understand patterns of abuse by encouraging more women to report incidents. Only then can we bring this problem out of the shadows, and tackle the perpetrators.
So we want to hear from you. What dangers are women facing as they use public transport? And what more can we do to confront those dangers?
I’m determined to do everything I can to make travel safer for women. I have a seat on the government’s Violence against Women and Girls Group, so I will make sure the issue is given full consideration across government.
I’ve written letters to every commercial train company, informing them of the numbers of offences that have taken place on their services and asking them to find solutions – both on their services and across the network.
In recent months Paul Crowther, the head of the British Transport Police, and I have been working together to consider what needs to happen next.
We’ve talked about how we could encourage more passengers to report crimes, and how we could we target the riskiest services, such as late-night trains.
And I am pleased to tell you today that we have commissioned Middlesex University to undertake some new research, which will make an important contribution to understanding precisely what works in reducing sexual offending on public transport.
The research will explore whether there are any innovative techniques being used by police forces, not just across this country, but across the world, to deal with sexual offences on transport, and to increase public confidence. I’m glad that Dr Jacqueline Gray – who is conducting the research – is here to talk about it in more detail.
But I’d like to finish today by repeating my call for information from you, too. The more we know, the more effective will be our response. Thanks to British Transport Police, Hollaback, train operators, and other interested parties here today, we are making progress.
But let’s redouble our efforts to protect women on transport. To expose the men who think they can get away with this crime. And to get our message clearly over that their behaviour will not be tolerated.