Staring at public transport: "His eyes were fixed on me"

Poster campaigns have been created to raise awareness about the problem of intrusive staring on public transport.

Staring at public transport: "His eyes were fixed on me"

Poster campaigns have been created to raise awareness about the problem of intrusive staring on public transport. It can be sexual harassment. Some people who were affected described being watched by strangers as distressing.

Bex, a woman from east London was returning home from a night in the theatre on the Tube when a man sat next to her started staring.

During the 10-minute ride, the stranger looked straight at her, she said.

"I was looking at something else than him on my phone."

She was so uncomfortable with his constant staring by the time she got to her stop, that she waited until the very last moment to get up.

He followed her as she got off the train. She decided to wait five minutes on the concourse of the station before she boarded her bus. He stood less than one metre away, staring.

After many trains arrived and left, the man did not get on, so she "bolted for the stairs".

She says, "I turned around to see he was just waving at my face."

Bex initially worried that she was overreacting, but later realized that one of the anti-staring posters was actually placed right above the man who was sitting in the carriage.

"Seeing that made it feel good, I feel like I have the right to feel at ease."

The Rail Delivery Group (BTP) and British Transport Police (BTP) launched the campaign last year. Later, Transport for London (TfL), also launched it.

These posters address a variety of undesirable behaviours, including catcalling, exposing bodily parts, inappropriate touching and upskirting.

After a man was sentenced to prison for staring at a woman while riding a train between Reading, Newbury and Newbury and blocking her exit, the staring posters were brought into the limelight.

He was found guilty for causing alarm, distress, harassment and intentional harassment. He was sentenced to 22-weeks in prison.

Although staring is not an offense, intrusive staring that is sexual in nature can cause distress, alarm, harassment or other problems and could be classified as a Public Order Offence.

British Transport Police posted on 22 April that a man had been arrested for pushing himself against a woman aboard a train. The officers had been following him because they observed that he was "closely monitoring" female passengers.

TfL conducted research that showed that intrusive staring was a very common type of unwelcome sexual behavior, mainly experienced by women.

Lucy Thorburn from Manchester was riding a train in central London at 09:00 when she encountered unwanted and intrusive stareing.

She claims that a man was "glued to [her]" for 25 minutes of her journey.

"After 10 minutes, I felt really uncomfortable. I thought my music was too loud, so I turned it down. But, subconsciously I knew it wasn't because the Tube was full and he was the only one watching.

Lucy thought about getting off but ended up taking a connecting train. "Why should he make me leave?" She asks.

"Starting might not seem so bad to some people, but it is the beginning of something... I have been stared upon before and it has led me to being followed."

Dr Fiona Vera Gray, from London Metropolitan University's Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit says that intrusive staring is a form of "public sexual harassment".

It is the feeling of being watched, monitored, and evaluated. However, it can also be an experience of dehumanisation.

It creates a bodily self-consciousness. Women have described feeling suddenly aware of their posture, their hands, their movements, and how they look.

Bex says that there's a difference between someone who is people-watching or looking at you.

Jamie Klingler from Reclaim These Streets concurs: "We've all been caught admiring somebody's shoes or outfit... but the act of staring intently, which makes [a victim] desire to change their behaviour, is what the posters are trying [to tackle]."

Dr Afroditi Pia, University of Kent, says that staring can cause deep anxiety and fear. This should make it difficult for those watching others to do so.

British Transport Police spokesperson stated that it was a priority "drive out" sexual harassment on trains and that all incidents reported would be recorded in order to build a picture about the offending behavior.

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