LA Metro starts counselling line to combat sexual...
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Jan 11, 2017  |  Vote 0    0

LA Metro starts counselling line to combat sexual harassment

Hamilton Spectator

LOS ANGELES — Aiming to combat sexual harassment on public transportation, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority unveiled an around-the-clock counselling hotline Wednesday to provide support to riders who experience unwanted sexual advances.

The launch of the "It's Off Limits" hotline is part of a campaign encouraging riders to report sexual harassment after a 2015 survey of 20,000 riders found one in 14 passengers reported being fondled or groped aboard Metro trains and buses.

"There is no excuse and never an invitation to sexually harass. Riding the bus to work is not an invitation; waiting for the bus at a bus shelter is not an invitation; a crowded subway car is not an excuse," said Patti Giggans, the executive director of Peace Over Violence, the nonprofit group that will staff the confidential counselling hotline.

The hotline will connect callers with counsellors and give them the option of reporting the incident to law enforcement. While Metro CEO Phil Washington said passengers should "absolutely" report the encounter to police before phoning the hotline, Giggans says some people may need emotional support before they can recount the incident.

"If they need that moral support, that psychological support, they want to talk about it, they want to unload it and debrief, they should call the hotline," she said. "Telling someone when you're victimized is a really important thing to do."

In 2015, Metro also launched an ad campaign and rolled out a smartphone app that allows passengers to communicate with Los Angeles sheriff's deputies and send photos of people committing lewd acts. It was not clear how many incidents were reported to law enforcement. Neither Metro nor the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which patrols rails and buses, could immediately provide statistics about reported cases of sexual misconduct.

For some regular Metro riders, sexual harassment has become so common it doesn't even faze them anymore.

"It probably happens so much, and I hate to say it, but maybe I just consider it normal, and that's a sad thing," said 58-year-old C.P. Callaway, who said he uses Metro as his primary means of transportation.

Washington said fewer passengers reported being sexually harassed in a new survey — down to 15 per cent compared to 22 per cent in 2015 — but the agency still needed to do more to combat the issue, admitting the statistics were alarming.

"One is too many," he said. "We see incidents of sexual harassment actually decreasing, but we want to see that dwindle even more."

The Associated Press

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