Abused on Paris Metro? Don't expect help from others, say women in Reuters poll

PARIS (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Women using buses and trains in Paris have virtually no confidence that other passengers would step in if they were verbally or physically abused, ranking among the worst cities globally on public trust in a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey.

The poll of transport systems for women found the French capital ranked among the worst of 15 of the world's largest capitals and New York when about 6,300 women were asked how confident they were that others would help in their own cities.

Seoul in South Korea was the city where women least expected fellow passengers to intervene if they were in trouble, with nine out of every 10 women not confident of getting help, while Tokyo came second and Paris ranked third.

The issue of confidence in public support was a side question to a wider poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the best and worst transport systems for women in 15 of the world's largest capitals and New York, the most populous United States city.

By contrast, the poll, released on Wednesday, found nearly five out of every 10 women in Buenos Aires in Argentina were confident that fellow passengers would assist them if they needed help, with similar confidence levels in New York.

The survey, conducted online by pollster YouGov, comes amid a debate on how to make transport safer for women as reports of abuse rise. Studies repeatedly link safe transport with women's ability to work, study, and economic empowerment.

Overall 65 per cent of the women surveyed were not confident that other people would help if they were being harassed, while 28 per cent thought fellow passengers would step in. "Bystander inaction is a huge problem. We hear from so many women who have been harassed or even assaulted and other passengers have simply looked away," said Ms Laura Bates, founder of the anti-harassment Everyday Sexism Project in London. "It normalises the problem by making it seem socially acceptable, makes victims feel unable to speak up and sends the message to perpetrators that they can act with impunity."

The survey found in Seoul, which has a colour-coded subway system and network of buses, that 87 per cent of women were not confident fellow passengers would come to their assistance.

Ms Lee Su Ah, 34, from Seoul, last month saw a drunken man in his 50s or 60s berate a 20-something woman in the subway station about her knee-length skirt and makeup. No one intervened.

"They were just watching. He looked kind of dangerous or psychotic, so they didn't want to get involved," Ms Lee told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "I saw her, I wanted to help, but I didn't want to be involved either."

Figures showed that 86 per cent of women in Tokyo were not confident of getting help from other passengers and 85 per cent of women in Paris had little faith in fellow travellers.

A young woman who gave her name as Janine inside the Richelieu-Drouot Metro station in Paris said she was not surprised Paris fared so badly when it came to public support. "It's France, that's the mentality," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Another young woman, Julie, said she had friends who had been attacked in the Metro that is crucial for many Parisians, running trains nearly every two minutes at rush hour and with about 254 city stations only a short walk from each other. "I know it can happen so I never wear a really short miniskirt or high heels," she said. "I know we're better off than in some cities, but you still have to pay attention. I know I can't count on other people."

State-owned public transport operator, RATP, which launched a "sensitivity campaign" to improve behaviour on the Paris Metro in 2012, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Ranking worst after Paris came Moscow, Bangkok and London.

In London, more than seven out of 10 women, or 74 per cent, were not confident of fellow passengers coming to help them.

Ms Carla Teuval, 20, an associate at a financial services firm, said she was attacked once on a bus in London. "I can't remember what it was about, but it was a boy and I got punched in the face. Nobody did anything. Everyone just stared while I held my face afterwards," she said.

But women themselves admitted that they could be reluctant as well to step in if they saw someone being harassed. "I'd like to think that I could be that person who would step in and help someone else but deep down I know that in a selfish way I wouldn't want to get hurt," said Ms Rhiannon Lewis, 25, an occupational therapist from London.