Sex harassment victims let down by CCTV on transport when reporting to police

Most of the crimes reported to British Transport Police via the 61016 text service happened on a train (Graphic:

Less than 15% of all crimes reported to the British Transport Police (BTP) last year actually resulted in successful prosecution, can reveal.

Victims who put their faith in the force were left feeling ‘disappointed’ as a result.

The 61016 campaign has become emblematic of travel since 2013 in England, Scotland and Wales, urging passengers to remain vigilant and report incidents.

In recent months, the text service has seen a big PR push, following skyrocketing reports of sexual harassment on public transport as police attempt to regain the confidence of women after the tragic kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard.

Uniformed officers can be spotted patrolling trains handing out pink information leaflets, and clumsy videos made by BTP often pop up on TikTok.

But many women who endured sexual harassment or assault while travelling on public transport during the pandemic say their cases were dropped because of the lack of CCTV cameras.

A 26-year-old woman based in London, who wishes to remain anonymous, shared how a man flashed her on a train from Brighton to Paddington in October 2020.

She told ‘Because of the nature of the crime, my case got passed over to the Metropolitan Police and from then on, someone would call me every month to update me on where it was at.

She added: ‘It’s a funny one really, I’m glad I reported it but you kind of feel like you’re never going to know and that guy is still out there, doing what he did.

‘I would still encourage people to text that number. If something like that ever happens again, I would try and actively find an officer, there and then.’

But when she arrived at Paddington station, there were no TfL staff in sight or police.

Despite the push to text 61016, Freedom of Information (FOI) requests made by reveal that 4,086 out of 4,739 crime reports were closed without any result in 2020 and 2021.

This amounts to more than 86%, and further data shows the number of texts sent to 61016 have plummeted in the last 12 months.

In fact, there were nearly three times more reports in 2020 – even though people were mostly locked down in the first year of the pandemic – than in 2021.

Most of the crimes took place on a train (2,106), followed by platforms (976), with Manchester raking up 255 crimes in the period – the highest number in England, Scotland and Wales.

Glasgow comes next with 242, followed by Guildford, Wimbledon and Richmond with 194, and Central London with 181.

Top five crimes for 2021

Similarly to the first report, another victim shared how she got assaulted by a man on a train platform in Newcastle while waiting for a train in the summer, and then heckled by a group of football fans once in the carriage.

As soon as she got off the train, she rang 101 to report the incident but her phone died halfway through the conversation.

The next day, BTP called her back and an officer asked her all kinds of questions, including about what she was wearing and whether she had been drinking.

The student said: ‘They asked me what I was wearing and I understand why they did – the officer meant it from a practical view, so he can find me on CCTV on the platform – but I was suspicious why it was relevant.

‘He did explain, so I’ll give him credit for that. The other thing they asked is if I had been drinking.

‘I told him that I don’t particularly understand why he needs to know that. He reassured me and said he was just trying to paint a picture of what happened.

‘He was lovely and he rang me back to update me on the case.’

‘So, I don’t understand why there is not a guard or CCTV, especially on days when there are matches, and Friday and Saturday nights.’

Unwanted sexual behaviour on public transport does not seem to be as highly reported as other crimes like common assault and trespass.

Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, insisted that one of the major barriers for victims is the belief that perpetrators will not be caught. 

Top five crimes for 2020

She said it is ‘concerning’ if such reports are not being followed up on and that simply encouraging people to text 61016 is ‘not enough’.

‘It’s vital that those reporting their experiences to the police come away from the process feeling glad that they had and reassured that police would do everything they could to catch the offenders,’ she added.

‘Otherwise it can result in a sense of impunity among offenders who get away with harassing or assaulting women.    

‘We know that those committing sexual offences will enter the transport system purposefully in order to harm women and girls.

‘CCTV shows that they move around the transport network looking for women to target, most often during the commuter rush hours when the network is busiest.  

‘Alongside this we need to be investing in proactively identifying perpetrators and preventing harm from happening in the first place.’

According to BTP, crimes recorded through its text messaging service make up a very small proportion of all those reported.

Last year, there were a total of 46,395 and only 1,314 were from the non-emergency number.

The force insisted that tackling sexual offences is its top priority, with specialist patrols dispatched across the network day and night to intercept offenders and reassure passengers.

A BTP spokesperson pointed out CCTV is the responsibility of the train operating companies – not the police – but added this is not their only tactic when pursuing lines on cases.

They said: ‘We encourage anyone to report any form of sexual harassment to BTP by texting us on 61016.

‘Whether something is happening to you at the time or has happened to you recently, no report is too small or trivial and we will always take you seriously. 

‘Each report we receive provides us with valuable information which we can use to build a picture of an offender. 

‘Often it allows us to notice a pattern of offending behaviour and we will take action.

‘CCTV isn’t our only tactic when it comes to identifying suspects and bringing cases to court, we also police in a data rich environment where we can easily extract useful information about people and their journeys when crimes are committed.’

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