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‘Women are at risk’: North-east MSP calls for action after sex assaults hit 10-year high on trains

The crimes are reported to have taken place on board trains, stations and surrounding areas.

Sexual assaults reported by women on Scotland’s railways have hit a decade high, prompting calls for urgent action.

Officers received 46 reports of women being sexually assaulted while travelling on trains last year, which is the highest total since 2012.

The British Transport Police figures also show 301 women reported being threatened, harassed or commonly assaulted last year, second only to 2019 when there were 325.

The statistics from 2020 relate to the height of the coronavirus lockdown when significantly less passengers were using the network.

However, the number of sexual offences reported against female victims in 2021 is still the highest total from the available data in the last 10 years.

As well as on board trains, the reported crimes took place at stations and surrounding areas.

North-east MSP Tess White says the “sickening” figures show “women are being completely let down by the system which isn’t doing enough to protect them”.

In February, the Scottish Government announced it would launch a consultation on women’s safety on public transport.

SNP Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth said harassment of women is a “systemic problem” and one that she has personally faced on public transport.

‘Women are at risk’

Ms White is now calling for dedicated awareness and information campaigns in trains, on platforms and in stations.

This would inform passengers of a phone number or application to use to report harassment.

Tess White MSP.
Tess White MSP.

The Conservative MSP said: “Women should be able to wear what they want without the threat of sexual harassment and violence and shouldn’t have to put headphones on in fear of the tide of abuse which may be aimed at them.

“But it’s not just on board trains that women are at risk, it’s the wait at the platform or the walk home from the station where we have to clutch onto our keys and mobile phone for safety.

“Across the north-east and the rest of the country, women are rightly asking ‘what will it take’ for the status quo to change.

“This is why it’s vital the Scottish Government addresses these horrendous attacks which are occurring daily in different places across our public transport networks.”

The figures also show a rise in the number of male victims of sexual offences from two in 2020 to 12 in 2021.

But the number of women reporting these type of assaults was almost four times higher in the same time period at 46.

‘Deeply concerning’

A spokeswoman for government agency Transport Scotland described the figures as “deeply concerning”.

She added: “Women and girls should be able to expect to travel on public transport without fear of being sexually assaulted, abused or harmed.

“That is why the transport minister has made making travel safer for women a priority and will engage shortly with women, girls and relevant stakeholder organisations to discuss their experiences of using and accessing public transport.

“This is the first step in a wider initiative on women’s safety that we hope will address some of the appalling behaviour towards and treatment of female passengers and staff.”

ScotRail has one of the largest CCTV networks in the UK, with more than 6,000 cameras monitoring more than 350 stations.

There is also a help point at every station except Dunrobin Castle which is connected to customer service centres at Dunfermline and Paisley.

SNP Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth.
SNP Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth.

Stephen Elliot, ScotRail security and crime manager, said: “ScotRail works very closely with British Transport Police to ensure that Scotland’s Railway is a safe environment for our customers, and our own people.

BTP figures show that reported notifiable crimes in Scotland, including sexual offenses, are among the lowest in the UK.

“We will continue to work closely with the British Transport Police to clamp down on unacceptable behaviour and prosecute offenders.”

‘We will take you seriously’

BTP Detective Superintendent Sarah White said tackling sexual harassment and sexual offences is their “top priority”.

She added: “We encourage anyone to report any form of sexual harassment to BTP by texting us on 61016.

“Whether something is happening to you at the time or has happened to you recently, no report is too small or trivial and we will always take you seriously.

“Each report we receive provides us with valuable information which we can use to build a picture of an offender.

“Often it allows us to notice a pattern of offending behaviour and we will take action.”

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