It seems the concept of sexual assault has been lost on Chris Williamson, a shadow fire services minister who recently suggested that female-only carriages might be a decent fix for the increasing number of sexual assaults that occur on public transportation.
The idea had previously been floated by Labor Minister Jeremy Corbyn but was shot down because statistics didn’t support the idea. Corbyn also said, “However, I would consult with women and open it up to hear their views on whether women-only carriages would be welcome – and also if piloting this at times and [on] modes of transport where harassment is reported most frequently would be of interest.”
The idea itself is odd since it would only work towards normalizing the issue instead of working to prevent it. However, Williamson told PoliticsHome, “[The idea] would be worth consulting about.” He continues, explaining why he believes this saying, “It was pooh-poohed, but these statistics seem to indicate there is some merit in examining that. Complemented with having more guards on trains, it would be a way of combating these attacks, which have seen a very worrying increase in the past few years.”
While Williamson likes the idea he also adds that it doesn’t have to be implemented but should at least be explored, after all, “it may create a safe space” for women. He even said women would not be obliged to use these female-only carriages.
Williamson might believe the idea has some merit. However, women-only carriages are not a great answer to the growing number of sexual assaults that occur on trains. Laura Bates, from a website called Everyday Sexism, pointed out that segregating our sexes would only act to further normalize the issue. She said, “It has to be about sending a clear message that this issue, which is already so normalized in our society, can be further normalized by the idea that women should simply go somewhere else.”
In no way should we be putting the responsibility of preventing sexual assault on the women who are being assaulted. The problem lies with the person who assaults her. The Campaign group End Violence Against Women said, “And what happens when a woman doesn’t opt to use a segregated carriage – is she somehow to blame if she is then attacked?”
Women shouldn’t have to separate themselves from men on the train in order to keep themselves from being sexually assaulted on public transportation. Mick Whelan, General Secretary of Aslef, said, “It’s up to the privatized train operating companies to make sure every space is safe on every train.
He also added, “That’s their job – and their responsibility. Let’s make all carriages, on all our trains, safe for all passengers rather than restricting where people can and cannot sit. Because we don’t want gender apartheid on Britain’s railways.”
While the idea might prevent sexual assault on public transportation, it misses the point entirely. Not only would it say, “we are giving up on trying to prosecute assaults” – as Jess Phillips, Labor MP for Birmingham Yardly so aptly put it – it also does not tackle the real problem, which is prevention. Phillips even added, “Also, men should be incredibly annoyed by the suggestion that they can’t control themselves.”
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