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Metro, Peace Over Violence and LASD Double Down on Campaign to Thwart Sexual Harassment


Thursday October 15, 2015

Reaffirming their commitment to safety and security, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), the community organization Peace Over Violence (POV) and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) today announced a stepped-up public information campaign to enlist riders’ help in on-going efforts to thwart sexual harassment on the bus and rail system.

“Safety is Metro’s highest priority, and today we double down on the successful 'It's Off Limits' campaign we first started six months ago,” said L.A. County Supervisor and Metro Board Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas. “We have updated our campaign with a call to action, and we encourage anyone who experiences or witnesses sexual harassment to speak up and report the crime.”

Metro, POV and the LASD launched a second outreach of the “It’s Off Limits” campaign that, in its first release last spring, contributed to a decline in incidents of sexual harassment.

For the past two years, Metro’s semi-annual Customer Satisfaction Survey has asked a question about sexual harassment: “In the past six months, while riding on Metro, have you experienced unwanted sexual contact including, but not limited to, comments, touching or exposure.” In the fall 2014 survey 22 percent of respondents answered “yes.” After the “It’s Off Limits” campaign was launched the “yes” responses in the spring 2015 survey declined to 19 percent. 

Metro is one of a handful of transit agencies worldwide that surveys customers on sexual harassment.  Some agencies, notably Boston and London, have tried anti-harassment public information campaigns but none has had the same results as Metro.

“Metro’s highest priority is to ensure that our bus and rail system is safe for our passengers and employees,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor and Metro Board member Michael D. Antonovich, co-author of the motion that brought together MTA Communications, Security and Ethics office to reduce the number of these incidents. “We must continually work to enhance transit safety to prevent criminal activity, harassment or any sexual misconduct – even one offensive occurrence is one too many.”

Metro’s process is unique, whereas other transit agencies rely on academic institutions or media organizations to study their transit riders on sexual harassment; Metro staff conducts the survey and brings together stakeholders to find a solution.

"While the modest reduction in incidents is a promising start, we have to increase our efforts to stop sexual harassment and keep our transit lines safe and comfortable for women and girls," said Los Angeles County Supervisor and Metro board member Sheila Kuehl. "We need to be constantly vigilant and responsive, sending an unmistakable message to potential harassers that they will be identified, arrested and prosecuted." 

The first outreach of “It’s Off Limits” defined sexual harassment as unwanted touching, comments and gestures. The updated message contains the call to action “Speak Up” and that sexual harassment is off limits on Metro. If you experience it or see it – report it. Call 1.888.950.SAFE.

“Speak up is the next step in progressive messaging to empower victims and witnesses of sexual harassment to report, since the overwhelming majority of these crimes go unreported,” said Peace Over Violence Executive Director Patti Giggans.

In 2014, the LASD registered 99 reports of sexual harassment on the Metro system compared to 19 percent of nearly 20,000 respondents to the Customer Satisfaction Survey indicating they had experienced unwanted sexual contact.

“Sexual harassment is not something a person has to put up with, it is not a part of life. We want to end it and the Sheriff’s department needs your help to do it,” said LASD Chief Ronene Anda. “If we get reports of inappropriate behavior that we can investigate, that’s just one more way that we can all help make the system safer for all of our passengers.”

The active involvement of the riding public, working in partnership with law enforcement, expands Metro’s reach in providing a safer transit experience. Metro has 1.4 million bus and rail boardings on a typical week day.

“Each person who rides the system can be a partner with us in helping to keep their fellow passengers safe,” said Metro CEO Phillip A. Washington. “Harassers are on notice that passengers will speak up and we will find you, arrest you and prosecute you.”

Metro encourages passengers to report sexual harassment and any crime to the Sheriff’s hotline at 1.888.950.SAFE (7233) or call 911. Additionally, passengers can inform a bus operator, who can summon help. On a Metro Rail train, passengers can use the Emergency Call button located in the rail car. Report incidents via Metro’s application for smartphones, LA Metro Transit Watch, which is available for free download at the App Store and Google Play. The app contains a feature that turns off the camera’s flash, allowing people to take a photograph without being noticed.

Metro has already formed a multi-departmental Safe Space Task Force to attack the issue of sexual harassment, has updated Metro’s Customer Code of Conduct to explicitly prohibit unwanted sexual attention, formed a partnership with POV to provide non-law enforcement support for victims, is in compliance with national best practices recognized by the American Public Transportation Association and is in the process of forming a Community Roundtable to better connect Metro with its customers and to inform them of responses on the issue.