The 'Report It to Stop It' Campaign Encourages Women To Report Sexual Harassment On London Public Transit, But Is The Message Flawed?
It's no secret that sexual harassment in public places is a big problem just about everywhere, especially in large cities, and London is no exception. That's why a video from the Report It to Stop It campaign is trying to encourage women to report sexual harassment. Stopping sexual harassment is obviously a worthy goal to strive for — but is the concept behind Report It to Stop It an inherently flawed one?
In the video, we see a woman in professional attire who's just trying to ride the Tube in London. On the platform, she sees a man staring at her. Later on the train, the same man stands behind her. He touches her butt, then grabs it. After she moves away, he finds an excuse to once again stand by her and push his groin against her. It's intensely uncomfortable to watch — and even more uncomfortable, even downright scary, to experience as many women can attest. When the woman eventually gets to her stop and hurriedly gets off, everyone — both she and the viewers — breathes a sigh of relief.
And unfortunately, such things aren't uncommon. According to the video and the campaign behind it, 10 percent of public transport users in London experience unwanted sexual behavior, but 90 percent of that behavior goes unreported. Hence the campaign encouraging people to report any sexual harassment that happens to them.
The message is certainly compelling, but I wonder whether it's the one that's actually needed. First and foremost, I find it uncomfortable the way the film is structured such that at each instance of harassment, the narrator asks "Would you report it?" and before the harassment progresses further, the option "No" is slightly bolded on the screen. It's a subtle message that what happens afterwards happens because the woman on the screen doesn't report. And while you could say that's just part of trying to convince people that they need to report unwanted sexual conduct, it also carries with it the implication that what happens next is her fault. If she'd just reported it, after all...
Women have been hearing that song and dance for centuries: "If you'd just done X, then this wouldn't have happened to you," where "X" could be anything from "provoking" your abusive boyfriend to wearing a short skirt to a party. It is a terrible song, and I'm not sure why anyone feels like we still need to hear it, except for the fact that society just doesn't even want to get it out of our heads. But what about teaching a new song? What about teaching people not to sexually harass others instead?
In truth there are any number of reasons women wouldn't want to report sexual harassment, starting with the fact that historically, people (usually men) in positions of authority weren't inclined to believe our stories or to assume that, again, it was somehow our own fault.
And even if people are going to take it seriously, as this campaign hopefully indicates, doing so can be a great deal of hassle and could even be potentially risky. On their website, Report It to Stop It outlines what happens after you report harassment, from giving a police statement to potentially testifying in court, which all requires a lot of time and energy that you will now have to expend just because of something someone else did to you. Plus, just because investigators take your claims seriously, that doesn't mean the courts will do the same. Moreover, it is also not at all unheard of for men to retaliate against women who accuse them of sexual misconduct, on any scale. It can seem like a lot of risk, a lot of trouble, and a lot of effort without any promise of results.
I should say that I am not at all encouraging women not to report harassment. On the contrary, reporting is one of the ways we can try to prevent the same thing from happening to others and do a lot of good in the world; it also can help individual victims regain a sense of control over their own lives. But in addition to the fact that not reporting an incident is a valid choice too, acting as though women should feel compelled to report sends the following message: That the continued existence of harassment in public spaces is somehow caused by our failure to report. It isn't. It's caused by the people who choose to harass in the first place.
That said, the fact that this campaign does seem to be showing results (according to their website, both the number reports and number of suspects caught is up by 30 percent) is great, and hopefully will put a dent in the problem. Because fewer people sexually harassing innocent men and women on public transit is unquestionably a good thing.