CTA’s poster campaign not enough to fight harassment

By Editorial Board

Inappropriate or aggressive comments are an unfortunate fact of life for riders of Chicago Transit Authority buses and trains. To change this, the CTA announced a new campaign Oct. 9 to combat harassment, as reported Oct. 19 by The Chronicle. The campaign’s slogan, “If it’s unwanted, it’s harassment,” will be emphasized on posters on CTA trains, buses and in stations in coming weeks. The CTA hopes the campaign will encourage victims to report their experiences, educate riders on what harassment is and deter would-be offenders by creating a no-tolerance environment on the CTA.

The campaign slogan is fitting—if someone is being harassed by being taunted or insulted, they will know, as will riders around them, who are being encouraged to lend support rather than be silent bystanders. 

In the past, some victims may have been deterred from reporting incidents because they were unsure if their experience warranted further action. By raising awareness of harassment, more CTA users will be willing to take a stand against harassment and report incidents.

Some of the campaign posters are aimed at bystanders rather than victims. One poster shows 10 sets of eyes saying, “We’re all watching. Together we can stop harassment,” which also provides instructions on how bystanders can report harassment to the train operator or directly to the CTA by phone. Passengers are directed to call police if one’s safety is in immediate danger.

It is commendable that the CTA recognizes harassment as a serious problem and is taking steps to ensure all riders feel safe. Creating a no-tolerance zone on trains and buses is an important message to send socially. However, the CTA has yet to make it clear how it will ensure the campaign’s success.

The CTA received 36 reports of harassment in 2014, as reported Oct. 9 by the Chicago Tribune. Even if this campaign leads to more reports being filed, none of the posters inform riders about why those affected should file a report, or what happens afterwards. Providing this information would make passengers feel empowered to report incidents.

Many of the posters advise victims to tell a CTA employee or file by phone. However, by the time a CTA employee is alerted, the alleged harasser could easily be gone. To encourage more passengers to report incidents, the CTA should make it clear how filing benefits the victim and the CTA, aside from contributing to data collection.

Posters can only accomplish so much when it comes to making riders feel safe. An increased presence from police officers and CTA employees on trains and in stations would divert would-be harassers and make riders feel safer. An increased security presence would also enforce the idea of the CTA being a no-tolerance zone.

Additionally, larger problems contributing to harassment on the CTA should be considered. Those who harass fellow riders are often homeless and mentally ill. If the CTA were to work with social service agencies to address the large concentration of homeless and mentally ill passengers, this source of harassment would surely decrease. 

The campaign is an excellent effort to bring attention to harassment on the CTA and empower both victims and bystanders to report incidents to the appropriate authorities. However, the effort must go beyond posters to ensure trains and buses are truly safe for all passengers.