Toronto is home to many diverse cultures where people from all over the world have decided to reside here. There are over 250 ethnicities and 170 languages represented, with more than half of the population identifying as racialized. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), which is a network of buses, streetcars and subway trains, has always been the backbone of public transportation for everyone living in the city. However, the safety of youth travelling on the TTC has become a growing concern for many daily commuters like Fatima.
Fatima* is a nineteen-year-old girl who is pursuing her university education while temporarily working as an instructor of mathematics at a large educational centre. I spoke to Fatima recently as she relayed her story.
One Saturday morning she boarded her usual TTC bus and headed to work. While standing on the crowded bus, she suddenly felt an unwanted touch from a male commuter. She immediately attempted to move away, but could not because there were other commuters blocking her path. After a couple of minutes, she finally managed to move towards a safer spot on the bus. However, when she saw the assailant smirking at her from a distance, Fatima immediately felt violated and disgusted.
This experience also left her feeling unsafe, numb, and silenced. She feared speaking up about it because she believed that if her conservative parents heard about the incident they would immediately restrict Fatima’s travel, leading to the end of her academic and work careers. Her parents do not actively support her pursuit of higher education or work. They are tolerant of her goals because she is able to sustain her own expenses.
Unfortunately, what Fatima experienced on the TTC is a common situation for many youth. Because they fear talking about what happened, particularly to their parents, survivors often do not report the incident or get support. Only six per cent of sexual assaults are reported to the police, making it the most under-reported crime measured in the General Social Survey on Victimization. The TTC was once a trusted, dependable method of transportation – but it is failing youth, especially teenage girls and young women, travelling on buses, trains and streetcars in our city.
Crowded buses and subways are ideal for predators looking to touch, rub, grope, and expose with little fear of reprisal. The TTC is “a target-rich environment,” a Toronto police sex crimes unit spokesperson told the Star.
The enclosed links also suggest that despite lower commuter numbers, due to the pandemic, violent incidents and sexual assaults are on the rise on the TTC.
It is time for action. Something has to be done. Here are a few steps that Fatima believes the TTC can take to ensure greater safety for teenage girls:
- Create further awareness about violence against women on transit. Please refer to this issue brief by WomanACT.
- Urge the TTC to develop a safety plan that is trauma-informed with a strong gender-lens – as called for by YWCA Toronto. Hiring safety officers trained in de-escalation, outreach and mediation will be important. It will also be important that this plan is informed by community members and people who actually rely on the TTC.
- Develop a reporting mechanism that tracks all incidents, protects the identities of survivors and takes strict action against assailants. This mechanism should identify repeat offenders.
Fatima still travels on the TTC daily to her workplace and to her university. She is determined to pursue her academic career in Medical Sciences and reach her goal of becoming a doctor who supports the underserved in her community. However, young women like Fatima should not have to fear for their safety while using public transit. It is the TTC’s responsibility to ensure the safety of teenage girls while travelling.
*The name “Fatima” is a pseudonym, to safeguard the identity of the teen in this blog.
Do you have concerns about safety on the TTC? Join YWCA Toronto, TTC Riders and other community partners on February 9th for the Our TTC: Safety For All Townhall and have your say! Click here to RSVP: https://www.ttcriders.ca/safetytownhall.
Aparna Chakraborty is a relief receptionist in the Executive Office and Administration Department at YWCA Toronto. She is also the Finance Volunteer Captain in the Philanthropy Department for YWCA Toronto’s 2023 Women of Distinction Award Gala. She also is a teacher, trainer, and an Online Coordinator at Proton Advance Learning Centre and a senior Math and English teacher and trainer at Kumon. Since earning her Bachelor’s degree in English with honours and Master of Arts in English from the University of Calcutta and University of Burdwan, Aparna has spent half a decade writing on issues faced by teenage girls and women in all spheres of life.
Aparna strongly believes in Maya Angelou’s words, “Each time a woman stands for herself, without knowing it, possibly without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”
Image from Canva Photos