An abuser that might be sitting next to you – sexual harassment in metro stations

Mariam was 15 when she became victim of sexual harassment in metro. Although many years have passed, she remembers crowded cabin and suddenly how she feels on her body a hand of a 30-year-old- men sitting next to her. Now she says that for a girl of her age, this was huge fear and feeling of uncertainty. Mariam kept sitting silently until the next station, where she had no other way but to get off the train. The stress and fear were so strong that until she got home, she had the feeling that the man was following her.

Although this incident wasn’t finished with any physical damage or rape, this is another form of abuse, sexual harassment, which is experienced by many girls and women every day in city transports.

The last research in Georgia about sexual harassment in public transports was made in 2014 by Women’s Information Center. During 3 weeks they conducted interviews with 200 women, aged 18-60, who often take metro. The results show that 45% of women have experienced harassment.

Comments of sexual character from strange men, touching, persistent stare and sexual indecent actions – according to the research, these are the most common forms of sexual harassment in Tbilisi metro stations and they mostly happen during rush hours.

That part of the research about reactions after noticing harassment cases is also interesting. 34% says that they have noticed particular cases of harassment but 75% out of them, says they did nothing about it, because of fear, they didn’t know what to do, didn’t consider the situation too serious or they thought that the victims didn’t need their help.

In both lines of Tbilisi metro there are surveillance cameras in main halls and in and outside of the cabins. Train drivers can also monitor the situation inside cabins and special metro patrol, under the Interior Ministry of Georgia, watches over security in stations. Yet the management of Tbilisi metro says they didn't have a single complain about the cases of sexual harassment. So there are no information desks or banners about harassment awareness in underground transport.

The head of the Women’s Information Center, Elene Rusetskaia says that the main point to the researches was to acknowledge that the problem is there. “We were able to see the whole picture while working on this research. For women and especially for young girls, this is very important topic. When we face the problem, only after that we’ll be able to take actions for solving it”. She remembers that after this research there was a chain of different researches conducted by other organizations, which started looking deeper to the harassment problems in workplace and so on.

Another non-governmental body in Georgia also started active fight against the most common form of sexual harassment. In October 2016, Women’s Fund began a month long campaign which holds meetings, trainings, public movie screenings and other activities in order to raise awareness about harassment issue. The NGO promotes its activities in social media, which is a good move to reach the segment - youths. Georgian NGOs agree that their actions also need legislative support.

The bill on sexual harassment couldn’t gain support on its second hearing at the parliament. In June 2016, legislative branch didn’t vote in favor to amendments in administrative violation code. It was about punishment for sexual harassment, which is considered humiliating for a person. According to the amendment, abuser would be fined with GEL 500 and in case of repeated action the fine would raise to GEL 1000. Those who didn’t vote in favor of the amendment say that it needs to be brushed up.

Sexual harassment, as a way of abuse is serious problem in the world. Based on the research of Gender Equality Council of France 2015, everyone out of the interviewed 600 Parisian women, had at least once experienced sexual harassment on themselves.

Original story in Georgian at GINSC