A third of women experience sexual harassment in Czech public transport

An alarming number of female passengers report experiencing indecent exposure, unwanted touching and kissing, sexual coercion, and attempted rape.

 William Nattrass

Written by William Nattrass
Published on 17.09.2021 15:44 (updated on 17.09.2021)

Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas

Written by Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas
Published on 17.09.2021 15:44 (updated on 17.09.2021)

A new poll has shown that over a third of women and ten percent of men have experienced sexual harassment on Czech public transport. A quarter of public transport users have meanwhile witnessed the harassment of someone else.

The poll, conducted by the Focus agency for the Czech government, revealed the extent and nature of harassment experienced by people traveling in the Czech Republic, with 35 percent of women experiencing sexual misconduct.

Instances of harassment mentioned by poll respondents included staring, standing too close on purpose, inappropriate comments and suggestions, sexual gestures and movements, blocking of movement, and forced personal contact. More serious instances included indecent exposure, unwanted touching and kissing, sexual coercion and attempted rape.

It's clear from other studies that sexual harassment occurs relatively frequently in the Czech Republic, and that we are slightly above average in this respect. As in other countries in Eastern Europe, some people still downplay the issue," said Radan Šafařík, head of the government’s gender equality section.

He went on to say that some people still consider the milder forms of sexual harassment to be acceptable behavior.

The poll shows that women face harassment far more often than men. Nearly three out of five women mentioned instances of people staring or standing too close. A quarter of respondents had experienced someone masturbating in front of them, while 7 percent had faced attempted rape.

The poll also showed that a third of passengers who witness such harassment does not intervene in any way. Šafařík suggested EU subsidies and grants could be used to introduce measures enhancing safety on public transport.

Most respondents would appreciate emergency call buttons, greater police involvement in passenger safety, especially in the evening and at night, and training for drivers teaching them how to respond to sexual harassment," said the government's human rights commissioner Helena Válková.

New poll reveals the extent of sexual harassment on Czech public transport, illustrative image / photo iStock @kamisoka
New poll reveals the extent of sexual harassment on Czech public transport, illustrative image / photo iStock @kamisoka

What constitutes harassment?

Lucie Albrechtová, is a spokesperson for Bilý kruh bezpečí (The White Circle of Safety), an association that provides professional, free, and discreet assistance to victims of crime throughout the Czech Republic. We asked her about the Czech Republic’s harassment laws as well as how to stay safe when taking public transport. She told us that in the Czech Republic, there is no specific crime called "harassment."

Albrechtová said that in public transport, what constitutes legal harassment will depend on certain circumstances. For example, if someone exposes their genitals or performs a sex act in public, they could be held responsible for "disorderly conduct." Cases of verbal harassment can be pursued through civil law procedures. She added that any sexual contact with children under fifteen years of age is considered illegal.

“Nonetheless, you can begin legal proceedings against sexually motivated behavior, even if the offense doesn’t reach the intensity of rape, which is, of course, a crime according to Czech law."

So when does harassment become an attack? "The moment the offender uses violence against the victim, uses threats of violence, or exploits a victim who is not in a position to defend themselves, for example, due to shock, unconsciousness, intoxication, or mental illness,” Albrechtová said.

How to stay safe on public transport?

Albrechtová advises those who experience harassment on public transport to always take immediate action:

  • Don't stay silent! The most effective defense is to turn the attention of other passengers to the offender. Speak out loud, or scream ‘Don’t touch me, stop immediately!' Ask others to help you, to call the police, and to photograph the offender.
  • Change your location immediately. Inform the tram or bus driver of what is happening. If the offender is being observed by everyone, they are likely to stop their behavior. If not, immediately call the police by dialing 112.
  • If there are no other passengers, move to safety. Go to the front of the tram or bus and contact the driver.
  • Stick by other passengers. Staying near other people for as long as the offender is around.
  • Never get off the tram or bus with the offender. If there is a risk that the offender could follow you, let the offender leave first. Get off at a different station than what you intended if you have to, or ask someone to wait for you at your stop.

When asked what steps people should take if they experience or witness harassment on public transport, Albrechtová notes that each case is different.

“Your options legally speaking depend on the individual case. It is always possible and useful to contact the police. But it is important to know that the status of the offense according to criminal law will depend on the presence of violence, your capability of defending yourself, the intensity of the sexual contact, and the age of the victim,” she says.

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