10/08/2017 12:08 AM AEST | Updated 10/08/2017 8:22 AM AEST

New App Shows Melbourne Women Are Being Harassed On Public Transport

'Free to Be' revealed the places women felt safest around the city.


Nearly a quarter of young women who took part in an Australian-first city-mapping project of Melbourne last year felt it was unsafe to travel alone on public transport in the city at night, according to a new report released on Thursday.

'Free To Be' is a crowdfunded app that was launched between October and December 2016 by children's charity Plan International Australia. The program allowed young women to map "happy and sad places" around Melbourne based on their travel experiences.

Monash University's XYX lab studied the data and found that, of the more than 1,300 pinned locations and 600 comments linked to spaces around the Melbourne metropolitan area, 14 percent of responses were related to the city's public transport system and showed the safety fears young women experience while on trains and trams.

XYX Lab Director, Nicole Kalms said: "This research highlights the devastating effects of being sexually harassed or assaulted while using public transport -- particularly for young women under the age of 30 who make up 72 per cent of respondents to 'Free to Be'.

"Negative experiences in public transport spaces result in entrenched behaviours that may shape women's entire life, access and desire to use public transport."

With 60 percent of all public transport-related responses linked to experiences on Melbourne's rail network and a third connected to metropolitan trams, safety concerns and incidents were raised by young women over travelling to and from stations and waiting in public spaces for transport.

Melbourne's 'Happy Station' Responses:

  • Melbourne Central -- "Better to get on or off the train here than at Flagstaff or Parliament because there are more people around and better lighting."
  • Glen Waverley -- "Well-lit and generally busy."
  • Hawksburn -- "Surprisingly safe train station, always staffed and has PSOs after dark."
  • Southern Cross -- ""It is well lit and the wide open space makes it feel safe."
  • South Kensington -- "The station is basic but I always feel safe there."
  • Eaglemont -- "I have never felt unsafe here, even catching the train home after midnight."
  • West Footscray -- "With the relatively new station (and therefore new lighting etc.) and also the community/police officers at the station, I feel quite safe here."

Deputy CEO of Plan International Australia, Susanne Legena told HuffPost Australia the findings work to reveal the "lived experience" of women in Melbourne and the "systemic", under-reported nature of harassment in major cities.

"A lot of this stuff goes unreported because it may not result in a report to the police or to a public transport authority person," she said.

"The map collected, I think, what is more like the lived experience of women in 2017 -- which is low-level harassment going on all the time.

"It's not a one-off circumstance. What the map showed is that it's systemic, it's happening all the time, it's widespread and it needs a widespread response to the problem."

Melbourne's 'Sad Station' Responses:

  • Flinders Street: "A guy intensely stared at me for an entire train trip into Flinders, followed me off the train and then on to another platform. No one helped me."
  • Richmond: "I feel unsafe at night at this station as a young lone female. On one occasion at night I got off the train along with a group of five or six drunk men. They started calling out to me and then proceeded to chase me along the platform."
  • Brunswick: "During the day, a lot of very creepy men will be hanging around on the train and will often get off at Brunswick."
  • Box Hill: "Has always made me feel like I need to be extra cautious."
  • Footscray: "The walkway to my destination from the train station is blocked by trees/shrubs and completely dark. Intimidating people as well as indecent exposure/peeing in public makes for an all round uncomfortable walk."
  • Jewell: "The train line is dark and vacant at night. Very scary to walk home from the Sydney Road trams."
  • Jacana: "Me and my friends had a joke rating for each station, Jacana was 5/5 skulls. To be fair it has improved since they bought in the armed transit officers but it's still very rough."

According to the findings report more than a quarter of respondents said they felt safe at select Melbourne train stations due to the presence of transport staff, safety officers and adequate lighting, whereas locations that were deemed unsafe were isolated, poorly lit or frequented by drunk or drug-affected individuals who would make getting home more difficult.

Around 40 pinned locations also recorded incidents of harassment and abuse experienced by female public transport users while travelling, with the #57 North Melbourne tram and the #86 in Collingwood the most notable among respondents for negative situations.

Kalms said the voluntary submissions to the project showed the need for young women around the city to constantly modify their behaviour when it comes to using public transport and remaining safe at the same time.

"Women and young girls are modifying their behaviour all the time around public transport and that has a couple of really dire consequences -- [for example], they don't access urban life and the things they need in cities," she said.

"We are not thinking carefully enough about the impact of gender stereotypes and violence against women more broadly.

"Public transport is a very transitory space, so there's a lot of anonymity, there's a lot of density [of people]. It's something that perpetrators can use to act and flee and women are generally on their way somewhere and may not be completely aware of what's happening until they're in the midst of it."

"The 57 feels unsafe most of the day but especially at night when it is always over crowded. I have been groped, yelled at, sworn at & followed off the tram."Anonymous 'Free to Be' comment

In response Sammie Black, a spokesperson for Melbourne's rail network provider Metro, said: "Public transport is for everyone. We are committed to playing our part and creating safe spaces for girls at stations and on trains.

"The results give us clear feedback on the stations where we need to better support our female passengers.We have been working closely with Plan International and the Youth Activists who have shared their experiences directly with our executive team. We look forward to working with them to create solutions to make our trains and stations safer.

"The research is a great opportunity to listen to our passengers and have a community-wide conversation about how we can make our cities safe and inclusive for everyone."

"I am approached nearly weekly by men on the 86 tram trying to pick me up, including one time I was groped and verbally harassed. I just want to travel in peace."Anonymous 'Free to Be' comment

Legena also told HuffPost Australia action to prevent unsafe circumstances is being taken.

Metro was one organisation that attended a consultative workshop between Plan International Australia, public service providers and young women to look at how station and network design solutions could increase travel safety.

"I want to acknowledge that public transport authorities and governments have done a lot to try and make railway safety and tram safety better. They are trying to deal with this problem," she said.

"I'm heartened by the fact that Metro have not shied away from these results and are working with a group of young women to look at what this data is telling them and looking at ways they can make improvements in the system.

"[Change will come with] these authorities grappling seriously with the data and information that we've provided to them and being able to work with us and other users and young people to think about and consult with them in the design of their stations, in the way they plan their network, in the way they train their staff, by investing in bystander campaigns and how they educate their users to be able to create the kind of culture on the network that is a safe place for everyone."