Top tips for staying safe on public transport

If you are a female on public transport, statistics tell us you are more vulnerable than men to unwanted attention. The author, being a devotee of trains, planes and buses in preference to cars has a long list of ‘events’

ranging from the sad young man who kept dropping things under the table and recovering them slowly (it took me five minutes to cop-on that he was trying to look up my skirt) to the full on groper on the Jubilee line who decided to massage my breasts in a packed tube carriage.

An investigation by BBC Radio Five Live reported in summer 2017 that reported incidents on trains and tube had doubled to 1,448 in five years. But a report by Joanne McCartney AM, Chair of the Police and Crime Committee, in 2016 stated in the foreword:

‘Yet we know that crime and anti-social behaviour on public transport is under-reported. More must be done to address this.View Govt. pdf.

The trouble with reporting is that it is after the event. All too often, the perpetrator has dissolved into the crowd, head down from CCTV cameras and is heading out to find another victim while a distressed woman finds someone who can take the details. Public transport gropers are risk takers but also fast on their feet.

So what can you do to ensure you are safe and, when the worst happens, get yourself back to safety as fast as possible.

Solid advice seems to be sparse. Despite the superb video on YouTube from TfL (Project Guardian), their website section on safety seems more interested in telling you to hold onto your bags and avoid boarding a tube or bus if you feel unwell. So, the Staying Sassy office has scoured various websites and pooled out collective wisdom to come up with the following.

Journey management

  1. Plan your journey. If you are lost you will feel and so look more vulnerable. Attackers look for ‘victims’ and can see the body language of someone who is lost and already anxious. So know where you are going and how you are going to get there.

  2. Never get onto public transport if you have drunk too much. Slurring and sleepy make you a target for slime balls. Get a licenced taxi - we emphasis LICENCED TAXI – and pay to get home safe.

  3. If travelling at night – stay awake. Get a strong coffee and keep those eyes open.

  4. Sit close to the driver of a bus, train manager if on a train or exit if on a tube. Check where the CCTV is and stay in view. Harassers know where the CCTV is.

  5. Sit near a group of people who look safe. If you get any vibes which make you feel uncomfortable – move away. Hold onto your bags and have your mobile in your hand.

What to do when you are harassed

  1. The first piece of advice is to react quickly. Do not stand there wondering if this is really happening. If your gut feel says there is something wrong – you are likely to be right. And if you are wrong, you can make a gracious apology.

  2. Then make a noise. Shout, yell, scream – but make it clear you are not going to sit or stand still and take it. Say exactly what they are doing. A very loud ‘Get your hands off my breasts’  or ‘Stop rubbing your crotch on me,’ can be enough to make them turn away and look to escape themselves. Do not hit out unless you are being aggressively attacked. Just make one hell of a noise. Most harassers are fearful of being found out - use it! I carry a lipstick – a man covered in red lipstick is easier to spot on CCTV as they run.

  3. In the weekly blog, we talk about bystander syndrome. Sadly, the lack of support from fellow passengers is our worst source of vulnerability. Ask for help. Look other people in the eye and say what is happening. It is harder for them to look away.

  4. Get trained in self-defence. Most towns have courses. Krav Maga is an Israeli self-defence system which is taught across the world and probably for the fitter Sasssista, but google local self-defence courses for women and invariably there will be someone who can train you.

  5. Report it. Do not wait because memory deteriorates quickly after a shock. Call the police, call into a metro station office – anyone who can help, and give details – what they looked like, how they smelled, what happened, what they said and did to you, where they headed when you escaped.


In short, women have the moral right to travel alone in peace and safety. In reality, there are perverted abusers who think they can take that right away. Stand strong - make it hard for them to target you and make it harder when they try.

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