No break for sex crimes on public transport

Although ridership on public transport has fallen during the pandemic, sex crimes there have remained just as high, while offenders are reportedly still targeting minors.

“We have been sounding the alarm at the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) for almost seven years. Most of the time we are told about men who are terrified, others have wandering hands or even penetrating eyes. It leaves real scars on the victims,” denounces Audrey Simard.

The latter has been fighting street harassment for years at the Women’s Education and Action Center of Montreal (CÉAF).

GEN visit to Montreal Metro during the coronavirus crisis

No change

Ms Simard is also not surprised to learn that 99 incidents of a sexual nature were committed on Montreal buses and subways in 2021, according to the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM).

In 2020 there were still 101. After all, according to this data from the journal, there have been an average of 106 sexual offenses in public transport every year since 2017. The trend has thus continued during the crisis.

“I’m not surprised to see that sexual harassment has persisted during the pandemic, even though ridership on the subway and STM buses has declined. We’ve been gathering testimonies with those experiencing this violence for years, and we know public transport is where it’s at most,” notes Audrey Simard.

GEN visit to Montreal Metro during the coronavirus crisis

QMI Agency archive photo

tip of the iceberg

According to the SPVM, most of these listed offenses concern indecent acts, sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon, sexual interference and even voyeurism.

“You have to be careful with these numbers, we know it’s just the tip of the iceberg that has the courage to make a complaint and start this process with the police. I also insist on one point: we don’t talk about it, but it is mostly young underage girls who are the victims of adult men who find themselves in these situations,” warns Ms. Simard.

Note that at least 116 sex crimes have been committed on Montreal buses since 2017. In the subway, that number rises to 431 over the same period.

GEN visit to Montreal Metro during the coronavirus crisis

The STM responds

When contacted about the issue, STM claims that it “strongly condemns any form of sex crimes against clients” and takes the situation seriously.

“The new status of Special Police Officer, introduced since last July, also makes it easier to deal with situations on the ground, allowing them to reasonably arrest a person who has committed a crime and hand them over to the police or intervene with a person suspected of harassment,” said Philippe Déry, spokesman for the STM.

However, according to CÉAF, repression by security officers or “special police” is not the solution to the problem.

“We need to educate STM staff, police officers and witnesses about sex crimes, that’s how things will change. Just helping the victim and telling them we’re with them during an attack helps a lot,” explains Audrey Simard, who invites citizens not to remain indifferent to a sex crime.

GEN visit to Montreal Metro during the coronavirus crisis

Sex crimes on public transport in Montreal, in brief:

  • 99 sex crimes in 2021
  • 101 sex crimes in 2020
  • Since 2017, an average of 106 sexual offenses per year
  • 116 sex crimes on buses since 2017
  • 431 sex crimes on the subway since 2017

Source: City of Montreal Police Department

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