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Aussie Women Are Sharing Stories Of Being Sexually Harassed On Public Transport, And It's Pretty Terrifying

"I hate that I can still remember exactly what I was wearing — wondering if I had brought it on myself by dressing so casually. Fuck that."

Trigger warning: The content below includes details of sexual assault and harassment. Consent was obtained by all responders to publish their stories here.  

No matter your age, gender, or sexual identity, public transport can often feel like a very unsafe space. But for Aussies who identify as women, public transport can feel like a particularly predatory space — one where incidents of sexual harassment are disturbingly commonplace.

After reading one too many Aussie news stories, Reddit threads and community posts, we decided to reach out to the women of BuzzFeed Australia, as well as our wider social networks, to ask about their experiences of sexual harassment on public transport.

Here is a small sample of what many Australian women face every day. 

1.

"I was on a bus in the middle of summer, crammed in like sardines with every other inner-city Sydneysider. We went over a speed bump and I felt this man grab my waist — at first I thought he was just trying to steady his feet, but then he kept pulling closer to me until his whole body was essentially 'spooning' mine. Before I could say anything, a group of women who were sitting down — obviously watching the situation unfold — called out to me: 'Do you know this man?'

"I shook my head, and immediately these women started berating the creep and screaming to the bus driver to kick him off. I've never been more grateful for a group of strangers, and I've made it my mission ever since to keep any eye out and speak up for other womxn in similar situations."

—Lucy, 26

2.

"When I was 18, my friend and I were traveling for summer and found ourselves on a train, sitting in a cubicle with strangers — who would routinely get on and off at their stops. I noticed that there was this one guy who had been sitting with us for ages, and I awoke from a nap to him masturbating in the corner — I was absolutely horrified. 

"I was 18 and naive, and I didn’t know what to do, so I pretended to go back to sleep, hoping that someone else would walk into our cabin eventually so that he would stop. Eventually, another man came in and sat down and the guy stopped, but my friend and I felt so disgusting afterwards."

—Anonymous 

3.

"I was on the bus heading home in the arvo. It was a typical, oppressively hot Aussie summer day, so I was wearing fairly short shorts — and sidenote, I feel sad that I actually even think to type that or feel that it’s relevant. This guy was sitting behind me making weird sniffing noises, which was odd, but hey, that's bus life. 

"I hit the button for my stop, and as I stood up to tap off, he got quite close — which I tried to ignore. Old mate then followed me through the quiet streets back to my house — sniffing the whole way — stopped outside my house, and made direct eye contact with me as I opened my gate. 

"I was so terrified that he was going to chase me in that I literally started to run across my lawn and was shaking as I opened the door. At the time, I lived with a staffy, and I’ve never felt so appreciative of being around a muscly doggy-nugget. The sad thing is that it’s now made me hyperaware of my surroundings on public transport, which used to be a nice time to zone out."

—Sarah, 28

4.

"I was waiting for a train at the platform and noticed that an older man had his phone pointed at me. I suspected that he was probably filming me, so I moved down the platform and then circled back around so I could come up behind him. I immediately noticed his camera was open, which confirmed as much as it could about my suspicions. 

"I got so mad, but I didn't want to confront him directly, so I pretended to call someone and loudly announced that 'a creep is filming me at the station; meet me at the next stop and help me deal with it!' He very quickly moved off, which gave me a small amount of satisfaction." 

—Jules, 30

5.

"I was on a crowded train once and noticed that one guy was uncomfortably close to me — like, pressing up really closely against me from behind. At the time, I was too young and scared to say anything, so I just kept changing the way I was standing and trying to get a little bit of extra space — but no matter where I moved, he kept leaning into me. Eventually I just got off the train altogether, but ughhh, I felt so icky."

—Anonymous 

6.

"When I was about 18, I was on my way into uni on the train at midday. The carriage wasn't crowded, but it certainly wasn't particularly empty. I noticed a young guy dressed in a business suit get on and sit in one of the chairs in the row ahead of me, but facing back directly towards me. I didn't want to spend the whole journey locking eyes with him, so I just kept my head turned the entire trip, facing out the window. 

"About 20 minutes must have passed — and I'd felt his eyes stay on me the entire journey — when I was coming close to my stop, so I finally turned away from the window, only to realise that he was rubbing his crotch through his pants, staring at me the whole time. 

"I was so shocked that I just stood up and walked down to the doors, pretending I was getting off at the next stop. But I didn't know the area well enough to leave, so I just hid in the bottom carriage awaiting my stop, terrified that he would come down. 

"I hate that I can remember exactly what I was wearing: denim shorts and a singlet. Because a part of me was self-shaming at the time, wondering if I had brought it on by dressing so casually. Fuck that."

—Jules, 30

7.

"One time, I was alone in the carriage of an underground train, just me and one man, and he whipped out his penis and started masturbating in front of me, looking at me as he did it. I had no signal on my phone and it was late at night. I started thinking of every situation in my head of how I could get out of a potential attack, and I didn't know where to look. I clenched my purse in preparation to use it as a weapon if needed, then waited for the train to come to the next stop. I pretended that I wasn't getting off, then, right before the doors closed, I made a run for it. It was terrifying."

—Evelyn, 36

8.

"I was in my early 20s, getting a train during off-peak time, so it wasn't super busy in the carriage. I walked on to find a seat and sat down, only to see a man sitting across from me masturbating. It was terrifying. I felt frozen in the moment and didn't quite clock what was going on until I reflected in hindsight. I didn't have the courage to get up and leave until it was my stop. He was looking at me, and I felt  as if I couldn't look at him at all because I didn't want to 'fuel' whatever the fuck was going on, but I couldn't leave, either. It's an experience that has stayed with me my entire life."

—Anonymous 

9.

"I was sitting on the train in a two-seater and feeling creeped out that the guy across the aisle in the three-seater kept looking over at me, but also dismissing it because that's just standard creep behaviour — only to realise that he had been exposing his penis and flapping it around."

—Louise, 28

10.

"When I was on exchange in Japan, I was on the train, and these two men blocked me as I was trying to exit. I don’t think they realised that I could understand Japanese, because while they were blocking me, they were saying how I looked like the perfect 'cute loli' (aka little girl) to fuck, so I said, 'Excuse me, you know I can understand you?!' They looked so startled that they moved to the side and let me leave, but I honestly don't know what they were planning to do, if I hadn’t spoken back to them in Japanese."

—Anonymous 

11.

"I was on the Manly ferry [in Sydney] on my way into work, and a man approached me, asked if the seat was free next to me, and sat down. I thought it was a little odd, because the ferry was fairly quiet, but I just kept my headphones in and stared out the window. 

"After a few minutes, he tapped me on the shoulder and gestured for me to take the headphones out — which, let me say, I fucking hate on public transport. Call me a bitch, but I don't owe you engagement, and it's always, always men who want 'to just chat'. 

"He told me that he just had to approach me because he was 'so taken' by me — at which point I politely said that I'm flattered, but I'm in a relationship and I'm actually gay. 

"At this revelation, he suddenly took it as a fucking challenge and started asking me if I'd ever been with a man, maybe I'd just not found the right one yet, etc. So I told him to kindly fuck off, unless he wanted me to quite literally throw him overboard. 

"He laughed in my face but did actually fuck off and sit elsewhere — so, you know, small mercies." 

—Anna, 38

12.

"On my first day of year seven (so I was 12 years old), I missed the school bus and had to get a regular public bus to the last stop. After the third-to-last stop, I was sitting in the first half of the bus, and there were only three people left on the bus — me and two senior students (you could tell from the colour of their shirts) from our brother school, who were sitting up the back. 

"One of them got up, walked down to sit next to me, put his arm around the back of my seat, and as I squirmed closer to the window, he just kept edging closer and asked me, 'So, where are you going?'

"I didn't say anything, and he just sat there, pressing me into the side of the bus, and then he and his friend got off at the penultimate stop. In hindsight, I’m enraged, but at the time it was just terrifying."

—Anonymous 

13.

"When I was 14 years old, sitting on the public bus on my way to school, an older man sat next to me, put his hand on my thigh, and kept it there, occasionally massaging it, the entire trip until he got off again. I was frozen in terror, could not say a word, and when I finally got off the bus at my school, I burst into tears and ran to the reception office to call my mum to collect me."

—Anonymous

14.

"There was one instance when I was catching the train in the middle of the day — I must have been 18 at the time — and was on my way to university. A man got my attention on the way onto the train (I had my earphones in), and I thought he was asking a question, so I obviously stopped and paid attention. 

"He began to ask me if I was seeing anyone. I wasn't, but instantly uncomfortable, I said yes. I was single at the time, but unfortunately, as we all know, in most instances, men will only accept that a woman isn't interested because she ~belongs~ to another man. It didn't work. He proceeded to sit next to me on the (empty) train and continually ask me very invasive questions about whether I had ever been with anyone of his ethnicity, etc. I was so uncomfortable that I had to pretend the next stop was mine and get off just to get the next train."

—Hameda, 28

15. And finally:

"I was in the quiet carriage of the train at about midday, and a man approached me, saying that he thought I was beautiful and he simply could not let me leave until I agreed to go on a date with him. I tried to politely refuse, saying that I was actually in a relationship — all the usual go-to lines women use to appease men. But this guy was getting more and more insistent, and I started to get seriously worried that he wouldn't let me leave. 

"At that point, a young guy who'd been sitting a few rows back approached us and said to me: 'I can see that you're uncomfortable. Would you like to get off at this stop with me and then we can wait for the next train together?'

"I was so relieved that someone had intervened that I immediately grabbed my things and left with him. When we got back onto the next train, he asked if I'd like him to sit near me for the rest of my trip, which I gratefully said yes to.

"I will never, never forget the kindness of that man. We all need to look after one another."

—Sam, 25

Note: Some responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-737-732, available 24/7. You can also search for your local centre here.