Preventing Sexual Assault on public transit is as important as reporting it

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The TTC is laying a much-needed foundation to respond to sexual assault, but must fill the holes in their approach to sexual assault prevention along the way. 
 
Recently, the TTC has announced their plan to launch an app that would help report sexual assault on public transit in Toronto. While this could make reporting more accessible to survivors, it does little to prevent the assaults from happening in the first place. 
 
The app would help address the social stigma attached to reporting sexual assaults by offering a means of communication that doesn’t involve speaking to someone face-to-face or on the phone. Using the app can remove some of the social pressure and emotional fallout that can come about from describing the details of a sexual assault to a stranger. 
 
Concrete numbers can sway more change than projected ones can, especially within a corporate structure like the TTC. With the majority of sexual assaults currently going unreported, an app has the potential to gather more data than a phone line or face-to-face interaction.  By looking at the prevalence of sexual assault on public transit, the numbers could not only indicate the potential for widespread changes and improvements within the TTC, but also on a city level to support survivors and prevent sexual assault. 
 
While this information is important, the hole in the TTC’s plan is that it’s focused on responding to sexual assault without doing enough to prevent it in the first place. 
 
Other transit systems in Canada, such as Edmonton’s, have made small changes in the right direction, such as removing the warnings on the emergency stop pulls and buttons that may deter people from using them. Although this is a positive step, not all emergency stops are within every passenger’s reach.
 
Edmonton Public Transit also launched an ad campaign aimed at deterring an assault. While they are a good start, some miss the mark with their warning message because they rely on a rhetoric that equates sexual assault to a social faux pas. 
 
By presenting sexual assault as something rude instead of criminal, they inadvertently trivialize the serious trauma and pain it can cause. Advertisements against sexual assault need to communicate the serious nature of the crime, even if it means compromising a catchy tag line.
 
By mandating employee bystander intervention training and an increased employee presence on subways and bus lines, more of an onus would be put on TTC employees to protect their passengers and deter assault. All the training in the world won’t help potential sexual assault survivors if there’s no one around to help them when they need it. 
 
How the TTC responds to sexual assault when it happens is extremely important, and it’s encouraging to see the transit company take more responsibility in gathering reports of assault on their system. 
 
Moving forward with their own ad campaign, they will need to prove that they are equally as sensitive to the needs of survivors when it comes to deterring assault. 
 
More measures need to be taken to make the TTC a secure environment, such as increasing employee or security presence, to start making a real difference with the sexual assault data they hope to collect. 
 

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