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'A man followed me home on the Nitelink': Readers' stories of safety on public transport

“The man stood beside me laughing while I spoke to the driver. The driver just looked embarrassed,” one woman wrote of an incident.

Image: Shutterstock/Bikeworldtravel

AFTER A RECENT incident where a group of young male passengers reportedly chanted “let’s rape her” in relation to a woman who had disembarked from the Dart, we asked people to share their experiences of safety on public transport. 

The incident, criticised as misogynistic and driven by toxic masculinity, comes at a time when the safety of women in public places is being examined in Great Britain, following the murders of young women Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa this year.

It also comes after a Transport Infrastructure Ireland report found that women have serious concerns about safety on public transport: 55% would not use public transport after dark, and 34% have avoided going out on occasion because of safety worries.

The report found that while men and women are equally likely to experience violence on public transport, sexual harassment and assault are predominantly experienced by women, particularly in Dublin.

The Journal asked people to share their experiences with us after the Dart incident made the headlines last week, in the hope of highlighting what women in particular experience on public transport. 

The responses showed how these stories have lingered with the people who experienced them and influenced their perception of public transport. 

One woman wrote of how she was followed home on the Nitelink 10 years ago, and only realises now how dangerous that incident could have been. Another woman told us of an incident in the ’90s on a Dublin Bus route that still upsets her to recount.

One woman who said she had been regularly harassed on a Dublin Bus route, and now cycles to work, said she made “many” complaints to management about the incidents, but never heard of how the matter concluded.

“It should just be part of your daily life, safe and easy,” she told The Journal.

In examples where these incidents were reported, the women say they were not told of an outcome or didn’t receive a call back as promised. One woman said she didn’t report the incident because she felt there would be no point.

The suggestion of having transport police, made by the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU), as a way to help women feel safe has been criticised by some who don’t feel police can be trusted.

But is it the best option? Or, if not, what else can be done?

The European Parliament committee on women’s rights and gender equality, FEMM, published an opinion on how public transport routes are designed to suit men primarily, and that women make up a small proportion of the public transport workforce. 

In that opinion, the EP committee emphasised that it be considered how “women’s mobility is more likely to be affected by unsafe experiences and concerns over personal safety”, and “that fear of harassment and assault when walking, cycling and using public transport influences women’s lives every day”.

It called on the Commission to issue recommendations to EU member states to encourage women’s participation in transport planning, and to take initiatives “to make public spaces in European cities safe and free of harassment… to ensure women’s right to mobility”, stressing the need “not to victimise women but to include their safely and security concerns in the design of solution”.

Here are people’s stories of abuse or harassment against women on public transport.

‘I never feel safe on public transport when intoxicated men are on board’

“Roughly four years ago, I was on the Luas Red line at about 3pm when an intoxicated man started telling me I had nice legs. I chose to ignore him because that’s what we’re taught to do as females.

“He kept saying it and eventually began to verbally harass me, calling me a bitch and other names.

“I felt exceptionally exposed and humiliated as the Luas was packed. Another woman eventually intervened and told him to leave me alone. I felt unable to speak up and remained silent throughout.

“Eventually he got off the Luas and I was able to look at her and silently thank her. I never reported it because there wasn’t any point, in my opinion.

I never feel safe on public transport when intoxicated men are on board, or if any men are on board at night.

‘I wasn’t going to say anything – these things happen to women and girls all the time and I couldn’t prove anything’

“I was on the bus with my daughter who was about 11 at the time. I had a heavy bag of library books and the top of the bus was empty so we sat together on one of the seats up at the front to look out at everything.

“Two young men got on, both in their early 20s and they sat on the same seat at the front on the other side of the aisle. I got up to get off and as I did one of the men put his hand between my legs and squeezed. I was so shocked.

“This had been done to me before (I am sure most women have experienced this at some point) but what made me mad was that he would do it in front of my daughter! I think if I had been by myself I would have just got off and felt awful inside but never said anything.

“But what was going through my head was that it was done in front of her and I did not want her growing up thinking that it is normal or that she just has to stay quiet and put up with it. So I turned around and they were laughing and sniggering to each other. I belted them around the head with my heavy bag of library books several times and told them never to touch me again.

To be honest they found this hilarious and were doubled up laughing, but this is a story my daughter still tells to this day: about her mam standing up for herself and beating these two men around the head with a bag of library books.

“I did try to report another incident once. I was on my way home from work and a man sat beside me and pointed to his wrist to ask me the time. I told him and then noticed he had his head turned to stare at me and was masturbating. He kept murmuring ‘So beautiful, so beautiful’ while staring at me and all the time his hand moving up and down inside the pocket of his trousers.

“The bus was packed and I didn’t know what to do. When some other people got off I got up and moved to an empty seat on the other side of the bus. He glared at me for the rest of the journey and I was just thankful he got off first so he could not get off at the same stop as me.

“I wasn’t going to say anything – these things happen to women and girls all the time and I couldn’t prove anything – but I was very upset when I got home.

“So I thought about it and a lot of school girls travel on that bus at that time. I rang my local Garda station and it was answered by a female garda. She basically didn’t want to know and said if the incident was serious enough to make a complaint about, I would have to come in and make the complaint in person.

She spoke as if I was being a nuisance. For some reason I thought I was doing a good thing by letting them know that this man was doing this, had done it to me and might do it to children. It was so off putting I did not go make a complaint.

‘I can’t describe why I couldn’t move. I was terrified’

Another woman wrote of her experience aged 19, going home from college on a Dublin Bus.

She got on the bus at a stop along the quays, and sat downstairs beside a window. A tall man sat down beside her.

“The bus took off and I was reading/looking out the window. After a few mins, the man began to force his leg against me. I moved closer to the window thinking he didn’t have enough room. He then did this again. I was pinned in against the window now and he began to masturbate, and forcing himself against me.

I was literally frozen in shock/terror and didn’t move or know what to do. There were lots of other people on the bus. Prior to this, I’d have said ‘Why didn’t you just get up and move’ and I’m sure everyone who reads or hears this would ask the same thing. I can’t describe why I couldn’t move. I was terrified.

“When I got off the bus I felt sick. I was ashamed that this had happened and couldn’t bring myself to say it out loud. A few days later I got the courage to phone the Garda station in the city centre closest to the bus stop.

“I’d never before in my life phoned the Gardaí, so I had no idea what I was meant to do or say. The garda I spoke to asked me what happened, and I explained. I was extremely nervous. I felt he wasn’t taking what I said seriously.

“He asked for my name and number and then that was the end of it. I was never contacted back and I never heard from them again about it. I just had to accept that what had happened was something that wasn’t important enough to anyone else.

I see and hear what is happening to women on public transport and I’m sickened but not shocked.

‘You have to protect yourself – nobody else is going to do that for you’

“This is not a new issue but has been going on, unchecked, for decades.

“In the early 90s, I had a horrible experience on the 46a bus as a young woman. I was on the top deck. A man in front of me kept turning around and asking me for a kiss. I told him if he didn’t stop I would report him to the driver. He then leaned back and licked my face, from my chin up to my eye, slowly and deliberately.

“I stood up and loudly told him to fuck off, assuming somebody would try and help. Nobody on the bus did anything. I went downstairs to talk to the driver. The man followed me. I told the driver what had happened, again I was loud so the whole bus could hear. Everyone looked at their shoes.

“The man stood beside me laughing while I spoke to the driver. The driver just looked embarrassed. The man got off at the next stop, laughing at me. I had to stand there by the driver, trying to hold back my tears, until it was my stop. Nobody said anything to me. The driver didn’t even look at me.

“I have had other bad experiences with dodgy fellas. But this one really stands out. The hardest part of it is that I did what I thought was right, what we were taught in school, to be vocal and loud and let the people around you know what was going on, to shame the perpetrator. But nobody stepped up, not even the driver.

“The man who did this was able to act with the full confidence that nobody would challenge him. It was devastating. Since then I have always been careful who I have sat near on buses, and will move carriages on the train so I am never in a potentially vulnerable situation.

You have to protect yourself because nobody else is going to do that for you. What a shitty realisation that was.
I am still so upset writing this, thinking of all the other women and girls who have had to deal with this kind of shit over these years. It seems like such a small thing that happened to me, but honestly it is hard to put into words how humiliating and degrading and damaging something like this is.

‘No one stepped in but I totally understand why’

“I was on the red Luas line with my young baby in her buggy. A man who was with his partner, and very obviously affected by a substance, came over to ‘chat’ to my daughter. He was, pre-Covid, far too close and hovering over the buggy.

“As he was so affected, I was concerned for our safety. I asked him very nicely to step away and he started verbally abusing me, calling me a ‘posh bitch’ and cursing very aggressively. I turned my back and he started shouting that he would stab me.

“His partner tried to calm him down but he continued to threaten me, abuse me and shout aggressively at me until he staggered off the Luas a few stops later.

“I was terrified. I felt extremely vulnerable. All I could think of was protecting my baby but I was shaking with fear and didn’t know if he was actually going to physically attack me. No one stepped in but I totally understand why. I rang the Luas to complain – there was no security anywhere to be seen – and I was told a manager would contact me. Never heard a thing. Despite living near the Luas, it was years before I used it again.

“I’d love to say this was a once-off but being wary on the Luas was essential. Being scared on the Luas was not uncommon. Don’t take out the phone, hang onto your bag, DO NOT make eye contact.”

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‘When the Nitelink came, he followed and sat behind me’

“It was Valentine’s night about 10 or 12 years ago, I was in my late teens/early 20s at the time. I was out with friends in the city and went to catch the Nitelink but missed it. I had to hang around Westmoreland Street until the next bus at 4am.

“During this time, a man a lot older than I started talking to me and generally bothering me. He was heavily under the influence of alcohol and drugs, and I couldn’t really understand him most of the time. I decided if I just hung tight until the 33N came I’d be rid of him as he already had told me he was living on that route.

“But when the bus came, he followed me on and sat behind me and continued to bother me. As the journey went on a couple in front of me cottoned on to what was happening, and the woman turned and asked if I needed help.

“I told her I was fine, but she insisted and took me upstairs. The man followed and sat across staring at me the whole journey. The couple got off a few towns before mine, so I waited downstairs at the door until my stop. He again followed down from upstairs and stood beside me.

“By now a lot of passengers had noticed the man’s behaviour and I was mortified.

“I knew at this point I needed help, and someone encouraged me to ring home as I was living with my parents at the time. My mam answered thankfully and said someone would come out and meet me off the bus. A few stops away from mine a friend of a friend appeared from somewhere on the bus and said he had called the Gardaí for me too.

“So, we reached the stop, and the bus driver opened the doors. I didn’t move but the man knew it must have been my stop, so he got off. Once he did, I explained to the bus driver what was going on and he closed the doors and stayed waiting until my poor mother appeared in a dressing gown and slippers and armed with a sweeping brush!

“I got off and she grabbed me, and we ran the short distance home.”

“She told me she had encountered the man on her way to the bus and he had called out to her asking where he was. He hadn’t a clue. The acquaintance contacted me the next day to check in. He said the Gardaí had sent a car but couldn’t find the man. Whether they did check it out or not we’ll never know but at the time I had trusted they did.

“Now I’m in my 30s and far less naïve than I was at the time, and I’m aware of how dangerous that situation was. At the time I wasn’t that concerned, I truly thought nothing like an assault (or worse) would happen to me.

“But now I’m struck by how my main feelings on the night were that of embarrassment. I was MORTIFIED that I had caused this scene on the Nitelink. I didn’t want to ask for help because I didn’t want to draw any more attention to myself.

“I felt it was somehow my fault I’d caused such a fuss. I didn’t think the incident warranted calling the Gardaí and I only decided to call my mum to come get me at the last minute, and only because someone else on the bus had pushed me to do it. That’s what I find most frightening now, that as a small, pretty young woman I had somehow thought my duty on that night was to not impose on people, to not make a fuss or put anyone, especially the Gardaí, out.

“I wanted to be invisible. I wasn’t half as scared as I should have been, as I would be now, I was simply mortified I had to ask for help because of this man’s behaviour.

“I have to say, yes I do still feel safe on public transport despite many incidents across all types of transport. I have no idea why. Maybe because that’s just how it is as a woman! It shouldn’t be that way, but I guess I’m just used to it now and nothing seems to change.

You just have to fend for yourself and hope the worst doesn’t happen to you. As long as we continue to tell women to make changes to keep themselves safe, “don’t go out after dark”, “don’t get in a taxi alone”, instead of demanding more from men it will remain that way.

‘I hear a man shouting inappropriate sexual stuff at a woman’

A man was travelling on the Dart from Blackrock to Dún Laoghaire during rush hour in 2019 when he saw an incident at the other end of the carriage.

“I hear a male shouting abusively at a woman, inappropriate sexual stuff. She moves away and this male starts verbally abusing someone else.

“A larger man asks the male to stop, firmly but calmly. This sets the male off and a minor scuffle ensues. The Dart has now stopped in Seapoint. Over the PA system the driver announces that the gardaí have been notified of an event and the train will remain in the station until they arrive.”

The reader says that he then left the Dart and was chased by the male before they got into a scuffle. After the male walked off, the man called the gardaí, who he said were “unhelpful”.

Safety in Ireland

In response to a query from The Journal about safety complaints made, and what measures are taken to make its service safe, a spokesperson for Dublin Bus said: “All complaints and incidents reported to Dublin Bus are taken very seriously and investigated thoroughly as per the Dublin Bus Customer Charter and internal procedures.

“Dublin Bus operates a fleet of 1,000 buses. While the operation on such a large scale is challenging, the level of anti-social behaviour is relatively low. This is due to a series of initiatives which have taken place; designed to improve safety for both customers and employees.

“We have a strong and close working relationship with An Garda Síochána. The entire Dublin Bus fleet is fully fitted with CCTV cameras with up to 10 internal and two external cameras fitted on the more modern vehicles in the fleet.

“All Dublin Bus drivers are trained on the comprehensive procedures for dealing with specific situations. Each vehicle is equipped with a radio which allows immediate contact to our Central Control Centre. This means that our drivers have immediate contact to a team of Dublin Bus Inspectors should assistance be required in any given situation.”

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