Travel by public transport has always been a nightmare for women and children in Sri Lanka. The groping and molesting have been a long-standing issue, one which we have dealt with in silence. For many women and children, coming forward to name and shame the perpetrator has not been an option to resort to ; mostly due to shame and unwillingness to face the consequences.

All that is about to change with a new toughening of the law. 

Under the direction of DIG Renuka Jayasundara who heads the Police Children Women’s Bureau, plainclothes officers will now be present in public transport to apprehend molesters. 

The initiative kicked off in Colombo with several officers boarding buses and trains posing as passengers.

The police believe that the project would be successful in dealing with the high level of abuse women and children face every day on public transport.

The police have also issued a dial-in number 109 to complain about sexual harassment on public transport.

What can we do to prevent groping and sexual harassment on public transport?

  • Be vigilant. Be conscious of the environment around you. Watch out for yourself and other women or children in your space.

Many people are not paying attention, especially when they are on their phones or engrossed in deep thought. The perpetrators know that they have an advantage when the victim is distracted. They bide their time sometimes and wait until the victim falls asleep or gets preoccupied.

  • Raise Awareness and Generate Education

 Education is key to addressing any societal problem. Initiatives aimed at raising awareness about the prevalence and consequences of groping and molestation on public transport are crucial. Educational campaigns can focus on promoting respect, consent, and bystander intervention. 

  • Make Use of Police Reporting Mechanisms

Many incidents of groping and molestation go unreported due to fear, shame, or uncertainty about the reporting process. You must be able to make use of the dial-in number given by law enforcement officers to report.

  • Make use of Safe Spaces

Watch out for safe spaces as in well-lit areas, more women are present and not so crowded. The perpetrators thrive in crowded public transport. Make sure that you stay within those safe spaces as much as possible.

  • Empower Bystander Intervention

Bystanders witnessing incidents of groping or molestation have a crucial role to play in preventing further harm. Encouraging bystander intervention equips individuals with the skills and confidence to intervene safely and effectively. Simple actions such as speaking up, offering assistance to the victim, or alerting authorities can make a significant difference in stopping harassment and holding perpetrators accountable.

  • Promote Community Engagement and Support Services

Building strong partnerships with community organizations, women’s rights groups, and support services is essential for creating a comprehensive response to harassment on public transport. These partnerships can offer resources such as counseling, legal aid, and self-defense classes to empower survivors. 

  • Advocate for Cultural Shifts

Ultimately, addressing groping and molestation on public transport requires a broader cultural shift towards gender equality and respect for all individuals. Challenging harmful gender norms, promoting empathy, and fostering a culture of consent and mutual respect are fundamental steps toward creating safer and more inclusive public spaces. 

Preventing and addressing groping and molestation on public transport requires a multi-faceted approach encompassing awareness-raising, education, surveillance, policy enforcement, community engagement, and cultural change. By implementing these strategies in a coordinated manner, we can create transportation systems that are safe, accessible, and welcoming for all passengers, regardless of gender. Together, we can build a future where every journey is free from harassment and intimidation.