'Arresting men for staring at women on the train won't make us safer'

Arresting men for staring at women on the train won’t make us any safer. Prosecuting rapists and sex abusers will, writes JULIE BURCHILL

As a feminist — quite an extreme one at that — I should be pleased by the posters suddenly appearing all around the London Underground saying: ‘Intrusive staring of a sexual nature is sexual harassment and is not tolerated.’

I’m sure that Detective Superintendent Sarah White meant well when she said that men who stare at women on trains (it’s very rarely the other way around) are ‘starting to show behaviours that are unhealthy’.

I have wholeheartedly supported Transport for London’s ongoing initiative to stamp out sexual harassment on public transport. Their campaign, launched last October, aims to protect women from a litany of horrors, including up-skirting, cat-calling, touching and flashing. All good and necessary.

But looking at someone? Really?

I have wholeheartedly supported Transport for London’s ongoing initiative to stamp out sexual harassment on public transport. But looking at someone? Really? Picture: Knightsbridge Underground Station

How will this be proved? How will it be enforced? Will fellow commuters be called upon to attest to the evil-eye-balling? What about daydreamers like myself whose gaze has fixed randomly on some stranger while my thoughts are miles away on a beach somewhere with my actual squeeze?

In an oddly phrased bit of double-think, DS White, talking about the new campaign, explained: ‘It’s human nature to stare at things. However, it’s very different when someone is staring, leering, or there’s a sexual motivation.

‘We want to know about that staring because that is the behaviour that suggests to me that someone is thinking about a sexual behaviour that supports that staring. We will record them as crimes and we will investigate them — and we have had successful prosecutions in that field.’

In fact, last month did see the successful prosecution of a man who was jailed for 22 weeks by magistrates in Reading for staring intensely at a woman on a train. The court was told how Dominik Bullock continued to stare at her after she asked him to stop, then barred her exit when she told him to move.

After he was identified on CCTV, Bullock was found guilty of causing intentional harassment, alarm or distress.

His case does sound pretty unpleasant, but why not just try catching actual rapists rather than wasting time on crimes not yet committed?

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that protracted leering is a joke and it certainly isn’t something women should have to learn to laugh along with.

I was not always the brazen broad I now am; as a shy adolescent I would set off for school half an hour early in summer in order to avoid being called out to by men on building sites as I scurried by in my blue gingham school dress. It would be a rare woman indeed who has never felt the fear of being alone in a train or Tube carriage with a strange man.

But criminalising the act of looking at someone? How can that be the answer?

So-called ‘micro-aggressions’ simply should not be treated with such magnitude; in a recent book I had to read for work, for example, a young writer put being asked to ‘Give us a smile, love!’ by a passing man in the same category as being given an STD, when writing about the woes women ‘suffer’.

Posters (pictured) installed on trains, say: ‘Intrusive staring of a sexual nature is sexual harassment and is not tolerated’

These should not be matters for the police! Just like ‘misgendering’ and other internet thought crimes, it’s far too easy to criminalise events which don’t actually harm anybody. 

The police are not there to prevent offence or hurt feelings — they are there to tackle the actual dangers faced by the public.

They are there to stand between the lawless and the populace; to clear up the blight of knife crime in our country’s capital which sees the streets run red with the blood of our young people.

They are there to hold to account the rapists and abusers — many, sadly, from within their own ranks — who rarely seem to be properly punished for the outrages they commit against women.

It is abundantly clear that their hearts aren’t really in actually fighting sexual violence. 

Sexual crimes against women are rocketing, to the point where Dame Vera Baird, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, told a police association conference last year that ‘sexist’ police are putting ‘male brotherhood’ above the protection of women and girls from sexual and physical violence.

Police in England and Wales recorded 63,136 rape allegations in the year to September 2021 — the highest recorded annual figure to date. 

So-called ‘micro-aggressions’ simply should not be treated with such magnitude – these should not be matters for the police. Picture: Commuters on the Jubilee line

But these led to just 1,557 prosecutions, compared with 2,102 in the previous 12 months.

Over the past four years, rape prosecutions in England and Wales have fallen by 70 per cent. No wonder Dame Vera had claimed in 2020 that we are seeing the ‘decriminalisation’ of rape due to the dismally low prosecution rates.

Meanwhile, the newly elected president of the police Superintendents’ Association, Paul Fotheringham, has inexplicably stated that police constables should also be allowed to ‘work from home’ in future in order to ‘improve diversity’ — the belief being it would encourage more women with young children to join the force and rise through the ranks.

What a grotesquely surreal situation we’ve reached when the police could sit at home waiting to hear from women about men looking at them in the wrong way while fellow officers look the other way or even laugh as their colleagues joke about a murdered woman or make vile comments about the sexual allure of female victims of crime.

This is the sort of behaviour police need to be looking at. Urgently.

Prosecuting men for staring won’t make women safer. But prosecuting rapists and sex abusers will. It’s time we stopped banging on about ‘rape culture’ and started pursuing rapists.

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