Discussing the issue of safety regarding Montreal’s public transport system
There are thousands of people who use the Montreal metro system every single day. It’s a means of getting from home, to school, to work. But for some women, a metro ride can take an unpleasant turn when, suddenly, you feel you’re trapped in a room with no way out.
A conversation I overheard recently angered me. A man was discussing sexual harassment complaints while on the metro with his friend. He ignorantly asked: “Is it really such a big deal to be groped on the metro? It’s a damn compliment!” I cringed as he guffawed with his friend, and couldn’t help but think that this is why victims don’t always talk about their experiences. They’re afraid of being asked, “Is it really a big deal?”
Isha Sheikh, 20, was headed home from school one day during rush hour. Needless to say, the metro car was crowded.
“I sat down and saw an old man get on the metro. He sat across me on the other side — but suddenly, he was next to me on the empty seat. I noticed how he took up a lot of space. Suddenly, I felt something on my thigh, and I looked down to see his hand placed there,” Sheikh said.
“Initially, I was confused and tried to make sense out of what was happening. I told myself that this old man probably didn’t realize that his hand was on my thigh. But then his hand started creeping upwards, and his grip became tight. It was my first time in this kind of situation and I didn’t know what to do,” Sheikh said, furrowing her eyebrows and shrugging.
“So I decided to roughly move his hand off my thigh, but then he put his arm around me and smiled at me,” she said. “He smiled at me! His grip tightened, and I sat there debating what to do because I didn’t want to make a scene. So I got up to leave — but, as I left, he grabbed my bum. I went to the end of the car where one man who witnessed it all asked me if I was okay, and walked away once I nodded,” she said.
Less than one in ten individuals report incidents of sexual harassment and assault to the police, according to Statistics Canada. This shows survivors aren’t willing to come forward. One of the reasons for that is the stigma associated with this very serious issue. Questions arise: What was she wearing? Did she ‘lead’ him on?
It’s upsetting when the police don’t seem to be there when you need them the most.
It’s upsetting to not see a stronger police presence on our metro cars, and even more disturbing to see the STM security ticketing the innocent public instead of actually catching criminals.
You’d think that bystanders would reach out and try to acknowledge the situation, but most people just avoid eye contact and turn their heads.
It’s unfortunate that not everyone understands the severity and seriousness of sexual harassment, especially in a public place—you’re surrounded by people, but it’s rare that anyone tries to help. You’re just trying to get somewhere, and the last thing you want is an old man’s tight grip on your thigh and his creepy smile in your face. It’s upsetting and enraging and it certainly is a big deal.