Passengers warned to Know the Line on sexual harassment

A campaign to stamp out sexual harassment is extending its mission – by sending a message to passengers on Sheffield’s tram network.

By Molly Williams
Thursday, 01 August, 2019, 15:59
Paul Blomfield, MP, Christine Rose, Know The Line Chair and Marilyn Gegory, Chair of VIDA Sheffield, pictured at Netherthorpe Road Tram Stop. Picture: Marie Caley NSST-01-08-19-KnowtheLine-2

Government figures show that across the UK 85 per cent of women aged 18 to 24, and 65 per cent of all women, have experienced such in public.

Christine Rose, director of the Know the Line campaign, said the definition is simple – it is ‘anything that makes the recipient feel uncomfortable’.

“Women don’t need to be validated by men’s comments. It’s not hard,” she said. “We are not saying ‘don’t talk to each other’ or saying that flirting is unacceptable, it is, but it needs to be mutual and what both people want.

Paul Blomfield, MP, Christine Rose, Know The Line Chair and Marilyn Gegory, Chair of VIDA Sheffield, pictured at Netherthorpe Road Tram Stop.

“I think a lot of it is about male privilege and there seems to be an idea that some men think they have a right to control how they operate in public spaces and I think because it goes unchallenged that the right that they think they have gets more and more ingrained in society.”

MPs, councillors, the police, union workers, university students and charitable organisations across Sheffield have backed the campaign.

Paul Blomfield, MP for Sheffield Central, said: “I think the numbers are shocking. The fact that 85 per cent of girls and women have experienced sexual harassment in public is a disgrace.

“Boys and men responsible need to stop it and women need to feel safe. This is a really good campaign to highlight the issue and give women the confidence to stand up and those involved not to turn a blind eye.”

Rosa Tully, women’s officer at Sheffield University Students’ Union, said: “Sexual violence is a pandemic issue and Sheffield is not exempt from that.

“When we intersect the figures with other identities such as trans women, or for women of colour, these figures are almost always higher. The Know the Line campaign is a great way that we as a community can say no to sexual violence and that we firmly believe that women and girls should feel safe in South Yorkshire without fear of harassment or worse.”

Know the Line was officially launched in 2017. Its first initiatives included a poster bearing a simple, bold slogan - ‘see it, call it, stop it’ - as well as activity on social media.

Their latest drive comprises of a series of banners displayed around tram stops at Sheffield University, Netherthorpe Road, Middlewood Road, Malin Bridge, Meadowhall and Cricket Inn Road.

The banners display messages which show the difference between what is acceptable and what is ‘below the line’, such as flirting – above – and upskirting, firmly considered ‘below’. It is being funded by Lush’s Charity Pot.

Ms Rose said: “We wanted somewhere big where members of the public could see it.

“A lot of it is about public awareness and saying ‘everybody will get on better’ if people are more respectful and take into account how the recipient will feel.

“We also want bystanders to take action, if they feel safe, or just if they do see an incident just to ask ‘are you OK?’ or perhaps stand by them and talk to them so that gradually attitudes will change.”

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Dr Maggie Wykes, a senior lecturer at Sheffield University, conducted research two years ago into ‘everyday sexism in South Yorkshire’.

She found the most common emotional responses to sexual harassment, such as catcalling, unwanted sexually explicit messages, leering and being grabbed, was feeling “uncomfortable”, “angry”, “embarrassed”, “disgusted” and “frightened”.

Some people started carrying pepper spray, and avoided going out at night or being alone. Others changed their appearance and some even abandoned using public transport.

One person, referenced in Dr Wykes’ research, said they experienced four sexual harassment four times in one day. They said: “This verbal abuse undermines every essence of my being as if I am just some sort of play thing for male satisfaction. I am not a piece of meat. This harassment is a crime. I deserve to be able to walk the earth without this burden of male objectification.”

In 2016 Nottinghamshire Police became the first force in the UK to class misogyny as a hate crime. There are calls to adopt this approach nationwide.

Ms Rose said: “One of the reasons why it’s hard to report it is because it’s very difficult for the police to take action and misogyny isn’t actually a crime at the moment.

“We are working with South Yorkshire Police to try and get it classed as a hate crime and they are very open to this. We work a lot with the police and they do say to report serious incidents but a lot of it goes hidden.

“Women talk about it a lot among themselves, there’s #MeToo where people have started to report these incidents but I think it is very widely under-reported.”

Mr Blomfield added: “We need to seriously consider misogyny a hate crime. Making misogyny a hate crime is one of the tools authorities could have available to deal with the issue but the real way to tackle it will be changing behaviours, making boys and men aware of what it’s like to be on the other side of that and know that it is unacceptable.”

Ms Rose said the #MeToo phenomenon generally had brought about a shift in attitudes.

“The movement has meant women feel their experiences are real and validated. Because when it happens to you, you think ‘Is it just me?’ but when you hear lots of other women saying the same things and hearing about their experiences it moves the debate on. It shows it’s not just one or two women, it’s lots of different women and this is the impact it has.”

She said the next step would be to share ideas on how people can deal with sexual harassment.

Ms Rose said: “The first thing is to make sure they are safe, if they feel they are able to challenge it and say it’s not acceptable. If they don’t feel safe the best thing is to either move away or try and gain some help from other people who may be around.

“We are planning to try and do some work on responses to sexual harassment. There are some very good ones – some take down the name of the company car if it happened in passing van and report it, others have challenged it in the moment. We want to get some of those ideas out to help women feel more powerful and more enabled to try and tackle it if it does happen to them.”

See www.knowtheline.org for more information.