Toronto Star

Sex as­saults on TTC higher than re­ported

Po­lice data sug­gests crime oc­curs al­most once ev­ery three days

- BEN SPURR Crime · Sexual Abuse · Violence and Abuse · Society · Toronto · Joanne (JK) Rowling · Canada · Statistics Canada · Edmonton · Toronto Transit Commission

Emily Dontsos was mid­way through her com­mute be­fore she re­al­ized she was be­ing sex­u­ally as­saulted.

It was two weeks ago and she was trav­el­ling on a jam-packed sub­way south­bound on Line 1 (YongeUnive­r­sity-Spad­ina) at 8:30 a.m. Dontsos, a 31-yearold who works in com­mu­ni­ca­tions for a down­town hospi­tal, is used to be­ing squeezed against other pas­sen­gers on her way to work, and at first she thought the ob­ject jut­ting into her back­side was just some­one’s bag.

She had got­ten on at Eglin­ton sta­tion, and it wasn’t un­til the crowd thinned at Bloor-Yonge that she was able to turn around and re­al­ized with hor­ror that a man had his hand be­tween her but­tocks.

“It had been him the en­tire time. When I re­al­ized I was com­pletely shocked,” she said. “I was dis­gusted.” She was re­volted to see that the man, who was wear­ing a suit and ap­peared to be in his 40s, was smirk­ing. Dontsos took that to mean that be­cause she hadn’t im­me­di­ately re­moved his hand, he thought she en­joyed it.

“I felt this in­cred­i­ble sense of vi­o­la­tion,” she said, “and the fact that he prob­a­bly thought I was some­how com­plicit with it was ex­tremely dis­turb­ing to me.”

Dontsos ini­tially just wanted to put the in­ci­dent be­hind her. But she agreed to share her story with the Star be­cause, she said, many other women have been as­saulted on pub­lic tran­sit and she wanted to con­front the prob­lem by speak­ing about it openly.

“I’m just one more statis­tic of sex­ual as­sault on the TTC,” she said.

She’s right. Re­ports of sex­ual as­saults on the Toronto’s tran­sit sys­tem are fre­quent and the prob­lem is worse than pre­vi­ously re­ported.

Ac­cord­ing to num­bers ob­tained from the Toronto po­lice through a free­dom of in­for­ma­tion re­quest, there were 577 re­ports of sex­ual as­sault on TTC prop­erty or ve­hi­cles be­tween 2011 and 2015. That works out to al­most one ev­ery three days.

As of July 25, there were 70 re­ported as­saults on the tran­sit sys­tem, putting the TTC on track for about 124 re­ported as­saults in 2016.

The num­bers are roughly twice as large as those pre­vi­ously re­leased by the TTC.

That’s be­cause the tran­sit agency only records sex­ual as­saults re­ported to its em­ploy­ees and some vic­tims go di­rectly to the po­lice.

Even the po­lice fig­ures prob­a­bly un­der­state the ex­tent of the prob­lem. Ex­perts say many women don’t re­port sex­ual as­sault be­cause they fear that they won’t be taken se­ri­ously, they be­lieve the chances of the cul­prit be­ing con­victed are slim or they’re wary of the stigma at­tached.

Po­lice don’t specif­i­cally keep track of sex­ual as­saults on pub­lic tran­sit, and the fig­ures pro­vided to the Star only re­flect in­stances where the re­port­ing of­fi­cer specif­i­cally noted that the in­ci­dent oc­curred on a TTC ve­hi­cle or prop­erty, which they might not do in ev­ery case. The po­lice also said that the an­nual to­tals may not be di­rectly com­pa­ra­ble to each other be­cause the force changed its track­ing sys­tem in 2013.

Meghan Gray, a spokesper­son for the force, said she couldn’t say whether the tran­sit net­work, which is used by 1.8 mil­lion pas­sen­gers a day, is a hot spot for such crimes. But Det.-Sgt. Joanne Rud­nick of the sex crimes unit ac­knowl­edged the pos­si­bil­ity that an of­fender would view the TTC as “a tar­get-rich en­vi­ron­ment.”

Ac­cord­ing to Sta­tis­tics Canada, in roughly half of all sex­ual as­saults, the per­pe­tra­tor is known to the vic­tim. Of­fences on tran­sit are set apart by the fact that they’re likely com­mit­ted by a stranger and hap­pen in pub­lic.

“It’s ba­si­cally a quick as­sault,” said Deepa Mat­too, di­rec­tor of le­gal ser­vices at the Bar­bra Sch­lifer Com­mem­o­ra­tive Clinic, which pro­vides sup­port to women who have ex­pe­ri­enced vi­o­lence.

But while the as­saults can be brief and may not be as phys­i­cally vi­o­lent as other sex­ual crimes, Mat­too said their ef­fect on the vic­tim can be pro­found.

“Think about it: If I’m as­saulted on pub­lic tran­sit and that’s the only way that I can . . . get to my em­ploy­ment, the trauma which I will carry through be­ing in that spot again the next day is so harsh,” she said.

Jaime-Leigh Fair­brother, 32, said she was as­saulted in 2009, when a man pressed his erect pe­nis against her in a crowded sub­way train and then grabbed her in­ner thigh. The trau­matic in­ci­dent made her more guarded when us­ing the tran­sit sys­tem.

“It was hor­ri­fy­ing,” she said. “I guess I’m still a lit­tle bit para­noid about per­sonal space. I will avoid su­per-full trains, be­cause you don’t have the abil­ity to move.”

Fair­brother, like Dontsos, told the Star that she thought the TTC should do more to raise aware­ness about sex­ual as­sault and en­cour­age peo­ple to re­port it.

The TTC says it has an ar­ray of mea­sures that aid in pre­vent­ing sex­ual as­sault. They in­clude se­cu­rity cam­eras de­ployed through­out the agency’s prop­erty and ve­hi­cles, emer­gency alarms and des­ig­nated wait­ing ar­eas on sub­way plat­forms that have ad­di­tional light­ing, a pay phone and an in­ter­com con­nected to the sta­tion col­lec­tor.

In the 1990s, the TTC also pi­o­neered the use of the re­quest stop pro­gram, al­low­ing women (and now all pas­sen­gers) who feel threat­ened to be let off be­tween bus stops.

Next year, the TTC in­tends to in­tro­duce a cell­phone app that will al­low pas­sen­gers who feel threat­ened or wit­ness a crime to re­port it.

“We will con­tinue to do ev­ery­thing we can to com­bat this in­sid­i­ous crime on our sys­tem,” TTC spokesper­son Brad Ross said.

How­ever, the TTC isn’t cur­rently en­gaged in the kind of high-pro­file aware­ness cam­paign that ad­vo­cates say is cru­cial to dis­cour­ag­ing sex­ual as­sault and in­creas­ing re­port­ing.

Ni­cole Pintsch, co-or­di­na­tor of the On­tario Coali­tion of Rape Cri­sis Cen­tres, said pub­lic mes­sages that ac­knowl­edge the “preva­lence and im­pact” of sex­ual as­sault “can go a long way” to en­cour­age vic­tims to alert au­thor­i­ties.

Edmonton Tran­sit has been lauded for launch­ing a cam­paign last year that specif­i­cally ad­dressed sex­ual as­sault, us­ing ads in­stalled on the tran­sit sys­tem that said: “Grop­ing. It’s a crime.”

Dontsos said she didn’t re­port her as­sault be­cause she wasn’t sure it was se­ri­ous enough to take to the po­lice and she didn’t get a good look at the at­tacker, so she doubted she could pro­vide enough ev­i­dence to catch him. She also couldn’t find any way on the TTC website to re­port it quickly and anony­mously, as she would have liked.

 ??  ?? Emily Dontsos, who was sex­u­ally as­saulted on the TTC, said re­port­ing could be made eas­ier.
Emily Dontsos, who was sex­u­ally as­saulted on the TTC, said re­port­ing could be made eas­ier.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada