Each year, over 1.8 million rides are taken on the Chicago public transit system. In 2008, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) boasted an average weekday ridership of over 1.68 million people. The extent to which these public transit users experience a safe ride is a critical measure of success for both the CTA as well as the Chicago Police Department (CPD). Over the past six years, the Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team (YWAT) has received feedback from many young women who feel unsafe during their daily commutes and who have too often become victims of sexual harassment and/or assault on Chicago buses and trains (i.e. the EL).
In an effort to better understand the extent of this harassment and assault in the Chicago public transit system and to develop a framework for improved rider safety, the YWAT conducted an online and paper survey garnering respondents from a large and diverse group of Chicago transit riders. Over 639 surveys were collected over a period of six months during 2008-2009.
These survey results provide anecdotal evidence of public transit sexual harassment and assault characteristics and also represent the most systematic attempt to compile such data in Chicago.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND ASSAULT ON THE CTA
• 42 percent of respondents reported feeling UNSAFE on the CTA.
• 52 percent of respondents reported having been sexually harassed on the CTA.
• 13 percent of respondents reported having been sexually assaulted on the CTA.
• 77 percent of survey respondents were female; 23% were male.
• 26 percent of survey respondents were between the ages of 15-19; 23 percent were between the ages of 26-35; 22 percent were between the ages of 20-25; 11 percent were between the ages of 11-14; and 11 percent were between the ages of 36-45.
• 41 percent of survey respondents identified as Black; 37 percent of survey respondents were White; 13 percent were Latino; 5 percent identified as “other”; and 3 percent as Asian.
• 59 percent of respondents live on the Northside; 20 percent of respondents live on the Southside; 12 percent of respondents live on the Westside.
REPORTING TO AUTHORITIES
• 91 percent of respondents who indicated that they were sexually harassed and/or assaulted did NOT file an official complaint with the police or CTA.
• 9 percent of respondents who indicated that they were sexually harassed and/or assaulted did file an official complaint with the police or CTA.
• Of those who did file an official complaint, 60 percent filed it with the CTA and 44 percent filed it with the Chicago Police Department.
• 44 percent of respondents have personally witnessed an incident of sexual harassment or assault on the CTA.
• Of those who have personally witnessed harassment or sexual assault on the CTA, only 22 percent intervened. This means that 78 percent did NOT.
• 78 percent of respondents who were sexually harassed or assaulted and/or witnessed sexual harassment or assault cited the rapid transit “RED LINE” as the place where these incidents occurred.
• 23 percent of respondents who were sexually harassed or assaulted and/witnessed sexual harassment or assault cited the rapid transit “BLUE LINE” as the place where these incidents happened.
ADDRESSING SEXUAL VIOLENCE ON THE CTA
• 88 percent of respondents think that the CTA needs to improve safety measures for citizens who access their facilities.
When asked which strategies would be the most effective way of reducing the number of sexual assault and harassment incidents on the CTA:
• 34 percent of respondents wanted better safety amenities namely brighter lights in stations and on trains, working pay phones, and more emergency and intercom systems.
• 32 percent of respondents wanted increased police presence on the EL or buses.
• 19 percent of respondents wanted public education campaigns on personal safety and who to contact if one is sexually assaulted or harassed on the CTA.
To help chart a collaborative approach to a more responsible and secure transit system, and to provide a starting point for discussion of needed changes, the YWAT offers several recommendations for safety improvements that may limit the risk of sexual harassment and assault in the Chicago transit system.
1. Ensure that CPD tracks sexual harassment and assault crimes as stand-alone offenses; tracks the prevalence of these crimes across time, neighborhood, individual train and bus lines, and stations; and makes all of these statistics publicly available and easily accessible.
2. Increase CPD presence on buses and trains.
3. Launch an ongoing public awareness campaign to educate riders about: the risk of sexual harassment and assault on the CTA; preventive measures that riders can take; steps that victims of sexual harassment and assault can take to seek support; and the overall importance of reporting sexual harassment and assault incidents to authorities.
4. Develop a standard protocol for CPD and CTA to address sexual harassment and sexual assault and offer training on these issues to CTA employees and police officers.
5. Introduce and upgrade needed safety amenities throughout the transit network (namely brighter lights in stations and on trains, working pay phones, and more emergency and intercom systems).
6. Create a hotline where riders can easily report incidents of sexual assault and assault.