Which do you think is more important, sex offences on public transport or stolen bikes? It turns out that for the British Transport Police (BTP), crimes against property trump crimes against the person.
Today's slow hand clap goes to the BTP, with the news that it will axe the specialist unit which deals with unwanted sexual behaviour on public transport. This is despite the overwhelming success of high-profile campaigns such as Project Guardian and Report It To Stop It, which have led to a 43.5% increase in reporting of sex offences between April to December of 2014 and the same period in 2015.
Here's the BTP's video encouraging victims of unwanted sexual behaviour to report it.
Now that barely a week goes by without publication of a nice, clear CCTV shot of some dickhead who thought it was OK to stick his hand up the skirt of a total stranger and then hurl abuse at her for having the temerity to not want to go out with him, we thought the message that unwanted sexual behaviour on public transport was finally getting through. You aren't invisible, women don't have to put up with this shit and there is someone we can report it to. Except now there isn't so much.
Transport for London (TfL) staff are also less important than stolen property, because the unit which deals with assaults on its staff is also being disbanded. A BTP spokesperson told the Evening Standard:
Under the new operating model, sexual offences will be investigated by any of the 269 officers dedicated to crime nationally.
Our aim is to ensure that the significant expertise accrued by the existing dedicated sexual offence unit and our proactive teams is captured, and embedded as best practice across the whole new crime business structure at a national level.
Yep, you read that right. 269 officers. Nationally. We aren't trying to claim that London is more important than Birmingham or Leeds or Brighton — the rest of the country undoubtedly has its own share of public transport dickheads. But with hugely successful campaigns, encouraging women to come forward and report behaviour they would probably previously have put up with as one of the downsides of being a woman, we think the BTP is missing a trick here. Not to mention the fact that its decision sends a clear message that basically, your iPhone getting nicked is more important than your girlfriend, wife, sister or mother being sexually assaulted.
A 2012 survey by TfL revealed 15% of women and girls had experienced unwanted sexual behaviour on public transport, leading the BTP to set up Project Guardian in conjunction with TfL and the City of London and Metropolitan services. A quick poll of 10 women sitting near us revealed that every single one of us had experienced unwanted behaviour, from annoying drunks persisting in asking for a date to groping and being followed leaving the station. Sophie Walker, the Women's Equality Party Mayoral candidate also expressed doubts:
As Mayor I would prioritise making the tube safe for women. V worried by news this specialist unit to be cut https://t.co/r6zegtdIEd— SophieWalker (@SophieRunning) 24 March 2016
Don't get us wrong, we think the BTP has done sterling work in demonstrating that sex offences on public transport are not acceptable and encouraging victims to report them. The stats do a pretty good job of showing that it's been effective so far. And given that success, it's even more mystifying why the BTP has decided to disband the unit responsible for it.