If you're unlucky enough to be sexually assaulted or harassed on a Tube carriage (as many people continually are, despite increased awareness of the problem), the least you might expect is for there to be CCTV footage of the incident. However, if you're a victim of unwanted sexual behaviour on certain London Underground lines, there will be no on-board footage to help police catch the perpetrator.
There are no CCTV cameras on Tube carriages on the Central or Bakerloo lines, despite the fact that the Central Line has the highest number of reported sexual offences. In 2018, there were 289 reports of sexual offences on the Central Line, the longest and one of the busiest on the network, according to data from Transport for London (TfL), which was the most of any line by a significant margin. The next biggest hotspots were the Victoria Line (with 201 incidents) and the Northern Line (160). There were 54 reported offences on the Bakerloo Line.
A TfL spokesperson told Refinery29 that Central and Bakerloo Line trains "don’t have CCTV on board as they’re old trains". There is an ongoing programme to retrofit CCTV on Central Line carriages, they continued, but acknowledged that it wouldn't be completed until 2023. The spokesperson is yet to confirm if/when CCTV will be installed on Bakerloo Line trains.
This will provide little consolation to the hundreds of reported victims (largely women) who are still being made to feel uncomfortable, threatened and worse, as they go about their daily commutes. Sophie*, a 23-year-old who works in public relations in east London, was sexually assaulted on the Central Line during rush hour last Tuesday morning. When Sophie reported the incident to the police, she was shocked to learn that there was no on-board CCTV to help them catch the man in question.
"The train started to leave Stratford, and as soon as it went underground on its route to Mile End, I felt what I thought was someone's bag brushing on me from behind, which usually happens a lot during rush hour," she told Refinery29. But "after about five seconds," Sophie realised "the man behind me [had] grabbed my waist and was grinding his erection, beneath his trousers, on me."
This lasted for one Tube stop, which she says "felt like forever", until the man was pushed away from her. "I saw he had an erection. He didn't look at me once. By this point I was frozen, and teary eyed, panicked." Sophie didn't say anything and tried unsuccessfully to photograph the man on her phone before getting off at Liverpool Street, which she knew has a police presence.
When she reported the incident at the station – in between her "sobbing and hyperventilating" – Sophie said a police officer told her: "I know this isn't any consolation but this happens a lot on Central Line trains because there isn't any CCTV and people take their chances." When Sophie enquired as to why, the officer apparently responded that he "[didn't] know, I think it's because the trains are old."
"I'm both angry and confused that the British Transport Police and Transport for London are aware of the high number of sexual assaults and aren't doing anything quickly about it," Sophie said, pointing out that if a terror attack were to happen on a Central or Bakerloo Line carriage, there would be no CCTV evidence of that either. "Having CCTV on the platform isn't enough."
Patrice*, 25, a health case officer in Essex, also told us she believes CCTV on Central Line platforms is insufficient, based on her own experience of sexual assault in the summer of 2018 during rush hour on a train at Holborn station. "The perpetrator was standing behind me, my back was turned. He was touching my bum lightly with his fingertips so I didn't realise at first and thought maybe someone's bag or arm was slightly brushing me as it was packed." When she confronted him, the man responded blankly, acting as if nothing had happened.
Patrice reported the incident to the British Transport Police as soon as she got home and went to its office "within two weeks to give an official statement, which took a few hours. I was told there is CCTV at both Holborn and Bank stations and I gave them specific times, as I had checked it at the time. But they couldn't locate me or the guy from the CCTV."
Patrice described the lack of on-board CCTV as "frustrating, as these things happen all the time so [it] is necessary on the actual train, especially as [the police] couldn't see from footage on the platform, despite me giving them an exact location and times."
Maya Gardiner, 22, who works in legal finance in London, told us she's been sexually assaulted or harassed "at least 50 times" on the Central Line, which she takes to work daily, and has never reported an incident to TfL or the police. Most recently, at 7pm one evening last week, she said: "I felt someone was behind me but they were not too close that it was uncomfortable. I then felt like someone played with my hair but ignored it as I thought maybe it’s just the air passing through the carriage, it then happened again and I felt a finger trail down my back as they released my hair."
A man in his 40s or 50s "smiled at me and I quickly turned back and tried to step forward to create more distance between us. A seat then became available behind me, which I didn’t want to sit in because I knew the man would then be standing over me. He touched the side of my bum/hip area and said, 'Are you sure you don’t want to sit down?' I said 'No thank you' and stood there, he then sat down and sat so forward that his knee touched my leg. I inched forward to create a gap between us and he inched forward and we touched again." She added: "I felt really distressed at this point because he was being sly and calculated. I got off at the next station and changed carriages."
Gardiner said she worries about the absence of a CCTV network on the mode of transport that she relies on every day. "I am absolutely aware that the Central Line has no CCTV on its carriages. It frightens me, as I spend two hours a day on this train, and if something happened to me on an empty carriage – or when other commuters' heads were buried in their phones or newspapers – I would have my word and my word alone to prove what had happened."
For its part, TfL told us it was committed to passenger safety, pointing to its 'Report It To Stop It' campaign, which Siwan Hayward, TfL's director of policing, said had led to an increase in "the number of people reporting these disgusting crimes, with the confidence that action will be taken." Hayward added that there are "more than 77,000 CCTV cameras operating across London’s transport network, with 3,000 police and police community support officers dedicated to catching offenders."
TfL's spokesperson told us that anyone who is sexually assaulted or harassed, or witnesses such an incident, on a Central or Bakerloo Line train should report it immediately by texting 61016, the same process advised on other Tube lines. They added: "On-train CCTV is not the only method of identifying suspects – we use station CCTV, Oyster card data and witness statements – and the British Transport Police take part in undercover patrols to identify offences."
Public awareness of sexual harassment and assault on the London Underground may have ballooned in recent years, thanks to social media campaigns like #EverydaySexism and drives like 'Report It To Stop It', but an absence of CCTV cameras across the whole network is a huge oversight that needs addressing. 2023 is too long to wait.
Anyone who witnesses or experiences unwanted sexual behaviour on London transport should report it to the police immediately by texting 61016.
*Names have been changed