The evil man was sentenced without identifying and defining the parameters of the threat women face in public space. Can we now use public transportation safely?

The perpetrator of a sexual assault that took place on a public bus in Ankara a couple weeks ago was sentenced to 35 years in prison. I wanted to take this opportunity to complete this article I have been working on for a long time.

With the closing of this case –with a severe punishment “to relieve the conscience”– another sexual assault case on public transportation, in public space, only served to isolate a widespread danger by solely focusing on the criminal. There were no opportunities for launching a social discussion around the type of crime or the responsibility of public actors, such as the municipality. The evil man was sentenced without identifying and defining the parameters of the threat women face in public space. Can we now use public transportation safely?

In my first article on rape on public transportation and public responsibility, I tried to explain what public responsibility is. Although they claim no public responsibility over rape/harassment on public transportation, it should be noted that municipalities are the primary responsibility holders, and that there is a need for women’s and civil society organizations working on the ground to correctly identify the problems, investigate the examples and cases to come up with an effective action plan.

Mexico-based Women’s Institute of Mexico also underlines the importance of coordination. “Coordination is required in decision making processes related to planning and policy making on ensuring safety of women in public spaces. Steps taken without coordination are at risk of resulting in futile efforts or running around in circles. Police, public security forces, legal mechanisms, public transportation institutions, women’s organizations, urban planning units and civil society organizations are indispensable stakeholders of such coordination.” [i]

With every sex crime on public transportation story we hear, we can submit a complaint to the related institutions and demand drafting of an action plan, so that these news pieces can be discussed beyond the scandal itself, the statements made to defer the responsibility to private companies, the observations of “immorality”; and, serve to devise preventative policies − as the bus you take at different hours of the day could be the crime scene of the previous day.

We cannot ignore aspects of city planning and urbanization when we talk about women facing harassment in public spaces and on public transportation. The feminist slogan from the Gezi resistance, “Harassment-free zone”, demonstrated women’s demand for their rights over the city against the pedestrianization of Taksim project.

Harassment-free zone

Equal economic and social development or planning is obligated to/requires protecting gender-based principles in planning and implementation of public transportation. In this regard, factors that influence vulnerability and crimes committed mostly against women should be taken into account.

Turkey is a party and acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The General Recommendation No. 19 defines violence against women as violence directed against a woman because she is a woman and that affects women disproportionately. It includes acts that inflict verbal, physical, mental, or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, and other deprivations of liberty. It is also stated that when these actions take place outside of a private sphere, that is in public space, the violence is still considered to be violence against women and that it is intrinsic to the policies overseeing this space.

The fact that states, internationally, cannot provide safe public transportation for women is also defined as a violation of women’s access to fundamental rights. Harassment and rape on public transportation has been the subject of numerous campaigns around the world, and various mechanisms/practices were tried out.

Public policies around the world

Policies such as increasing the number of personnel on public transportation and the number of women employed in this field, providing adequate lighting at the stops, and ensuring stops are in central locations, and considering personnel assignments to stops are among preventive measures/options that are discussed or included in action plans of different countries.

Increasing employment opportunities in this area is considered to be the most important of them all. Surely, while taking this precaution, creating a safe environment for the personnel should also be taken into consideration.

Another tool for discouraging perpetrators and encouraging women to file a complaint and resist harassment on public transportation is awareness raising campaigns. Although it is difficult to expect that from public transportation centers of municipalities, who do not include a single warning, information, mention of this subject on their websites, it is their obligation to allocate resources and have a dedicated budget to respond to harassment on public transportation. An awareness campaign with an overarching scope should be launched and have visibility on all public transportation vehicles, TV, and other mainstream media. Centers should be set up for women who have been targets of these crimes. Campaigns, which include definitions of crimes and their sentences, alongside statements of witnesses to incidents, will not only inform the public and empower women but also have a discouraging effect on the perpetrators.

The technical infrastructure that supports emergency buttons which cannot be inactivated by drivers should be made available on public transportation vehicles so that women can resort to them in the face of a threat. Municipalities, who oversee buses as well as the public transportation traffic, should also have regulations in place to ensure safety standards on municipality buses, yellow minibuses and dolmuş [shared taxi/minibus].

Apart from these, recording images in public space is subject of another discussion on rights and freedoms. The UK’s response to this issue is surrounding public transportation vehicles with thousands of CCTVs (Close Circuit Television). With the CCTV technology, the signals of video images taken where cameras operate are transmitted to another center. When you are on the London Underground, you are surrounded by warning signs that read “You are now in the area monitored by CCTV of the London Underground” and cannot help but feel like you are constantly being watched. London Underground administrative management explains the rationale of/need for CCTV as follows:

  • To protect the safety and health of employees and the public,
  • To prevent and detect crime and antisocial behavior,
  • Real-time traffic monitoring,
  • Ensuring the implementation of traffic rules and regulations,
  • To support the efficiency and effectiveness of the public transportation operation.

CCTVs or other similar camera systems operated by administrative units that are unilaterally authorized to record, capture, and store images in certain places for a limited time are being debated on the grounds of violation of people’s rights and freedoms. It would not be right to pursue a policy, where public authorities assume their responsibility with a unilateral decision to take measures. It has implications around infringement of and violating rights and freedoms. Additionally, there are discussions around the efficacy and effectiveness of the paranoidly too-frequently-encountered CCTVs in preventing crimes in the UK.

Just like the CCTVs, another discussion revolving around technology is the idea that crimes will be prevented as technology “creates the opportunity to conveniently follow and monitor”.  With the development of telecommunication technology, and a lifestyle that renders daily life dependent on apps, you can now track the whereabouts of a person through maps applications. But who can guarantee that these apps will not reproduce the patriarchal close control to which women have been subjected by their husbands, elder brothers, and other men?

It is without a doubt that methods suggested by public authorities limit women to differentiated spaces in social life, and practices such as “pink buses, pink taxis” reproduce the “legitimacy” of men’s ownership over public spaces in Turkey; and they are not solutions that benefit women.

I would like to conclude this long discussion with a selection of campaigns/action plans from around the world.


Purple pin

The Purple Pin anti-harassment campaign launched by the feminist movement in the 90s cannot go without mentioning. It was the first campaign against sexual harassment launched in February of 1989 during a feminist weekend event where women questioned and discussed concepts of molesting, sexual harassment, and rape. The purple pin continues to be a symbol of resistance against sexual harassment.

For more information, check out this article.

Bacağını Topla (Don’t spread your legs)

The “Bacağını topla” image created by the Istanbul Feminist Collective (IFK), in response to men’s claim to public transportation and/or any other space as their own, went viral on social media. We hope that it has also encouraged women who are exposed to this type of behavior in their daily lives to react to these claiming acts.

Don’t spread your legs / Don’t occupy my place
  1. INDIA

A project implemented in India used a double pronged approach and invested in solar energy, which meant that they worked with renewable energy resources, and towards making streets safe.

The project draws attention to not only unsafe public spaces for women and children, but also the importance of an empowering solar-based energy policy, that is independent from state control, for individuals.


In 2012, an awareness campaign was launched in France concurrently with the process of reviewing and renewing the legal mechanisms regarding harassment in the public space.

In the past months, a study has been carried out on the subways of France, documenting the harassment on public transportation, and posters were hung on the subway with the following content:

“Hello mademoiselle”

“You’re lovely”

“Let’s get to know each other”

“Is that short skirt for me”

Then, the language on the posters gets more aggressive:

“You’re hot, you’re turning me on”

“Answer me, dirty bitch”

Lastly, the poster reads: “Stop-that’s enough”

You can watch the video of the campaign here.

  1. MEXICO: WE WOMEN TRAVEL SAFE (Viajemos Seguras en el Transporte Público de la Ciudad)

The “We Women Travel Safe” program in Mexico was established in 2007 with the collaboration of Mexico City metro and the Citizen Council for Public Safety and Justice. The program was launched to determine the basic principles for women to benefit equally from public transportation, and to ensure coordination between the relevant actors and the implementation of the program. The objective of the program was to facilitate women’s safe use of public transportation vehicles, on equal terms, and free from violence and fear.

  1. SPAIN: Regional Transportation Plan from a Gender Perspective

In line with the equality action plan implemented in Spain, policies devised with a gender perspective were put into effect in the urbanization projects of Pamplona and Camorca. Following a series of research on the needs of women in public spaces and while using public transportation, regional connections, bus stop design, transit lines, routes, payment systems, organizational arrangements were all put on the table for review during the development of city plans. Women were informed and participated in decision-making processes to ensure that all different living standards, economic, cultural, class differences and working conditions in the two regions were being represented and considered during these stages.

  1. NEW YORK – An Example of Prevention/Intervention Campaigns: “New Yorkers Keep New York Safe”

The New York subway is the most used method of public transportation in the city. With its lines operating 24/7, the subway is home to not only harassment but also other crimes. In a city with millions of habitants and millions of tourists, bombing and terrorist attacks are crimes that install a great fear in people alongside sex crimes.

Although the “New Yorkers Keep New York Safe” campaign is not specifically designed to target sexual assaults, it is an important one demonstrating “the responsibility of citizens, and the importance of them to intervene to keep the city safe”.

The New York City Government started a campaign that focused on citizenship consciousness that encouraged them to intervene in crimes they witness and report incidents to security personnel. The interesting part of this encouragement campaign is that the citizen identity, responsibility is constructed on being a New Yorker. Slogans like “Real New Yorkers Keep New York Safe”, “If You See Something, Say Something” call for inhabitants of the city to assume responsibility to keep their city safe.

You can watch the informative video on the campaign here.

Alternative Initiatives for Insecure Public Transportation: RightRides

The idea of an insecure public transportation gave birth to alternative initiatives. RightRides is the product of this alternative thinking and was founded as a New York-based non-profit organization in 2004.

RightRides states its collective mission as striving: “to end gender-based harassment and assaults against women, LGBTQ persons, and to contribute to building a safe society.”

RightRides as an act of solidarity, which we can define as a political act, provides free and safe rides to women and LGBTQ persons in New York between 12 at night until 3 in the morning. They sometimes accompany people as they are walking, too.

They use donated vehicles for their volunteer activities, and conduct information sessions and advocacy against crimes committed against women and LGBTQ persons.

  1. BOSTON: The Campaign that Increased the Number of Women Reporting Harassment Cases

In the city of Boston, also in the US, the branch of public administration responsible for public transportation launched a visual campaign to encourage women to submit complaints, raise their voices, expose harassment and perpetrators, and empower them to actively resist harassment. According to data from 2009, following the campaign, there has been a 74% increase in the number of reported harassment cases on public transportation in the city.

[i]            Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres México; Inmujeres DF (Women’s Institute of Mexico City, 2008).

For the original in Turkish / Yazının Türkçesi için

Translator: Deniz İnal

Proof- reader: Müge Karahan


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here