When Riding Transit Gets Scary

Ah, public transit - the lifeblood of major metro areas all over the globe. While we often look on in amazement at the grids of bus lines, train lines, and streetcars that run like clockwork all around us, we also need to be wary of their dangers.

And I don't just mean the danger inherent in riding any kind of moving vehicle.

As any femme-presenting person knows, riding their local transit brings with it a whole slew of concerns. I can't think of a single woman I know that hasn't been harassed or made uncomfortable on a bus or train in her lifetime, and I have plenty of stories of my own. Some are embarrassing, some were scary, and at other moments I genuinely might have feared for my life.

Granted, I'm not riding the subway in NYC or taking a crowded bus through downtown L.A. - but the Twin Cities Metro Transit has a dark side all its own. So what's a person to do when they're nestled in their seat, ear buds on, and disconnected from the outside world and a potentially dangerous stranger approaches?

This is scary - I know this. I understand perfectly well the heart-pounding terror of looking someone (usually a male) in the eyes and telling them to stop whatever it is they're doing that's making you uncomfortable. But it's important that you do. 

Stay calm. Take a deep breath or two, rehearse what you want to say to them, and then do it. If they don't stop, alert the bus driver or train conductor. If the problem persists, try to get a photo of the person harassing you. Take the matter to your local authorities.

If you're like me, and you never have any clue what to say in the moment, it helps to have some rehearsed lines in your back pocket. Here are a few that I pulled off the internet:

Use all-purpose statements like "Stop harassing people. I don't like it. No one likes it. It's not cool" or "What you stare, it makes me uncomfortable and I'd prefer if you didn't."

Call out the behavior that's happening and tell them to stop. "Your hand is on my leg. Remove it now." or "You're taking pictures of these girls without their consent and you need to stop."

Try not to be aggressive towards the harasser or curse at them. Don't instigate unnecessary violence and put yourself in harm's way - just speak clearly, plainly, and confidently.

Other options include:

  • "Stop touching my [insert body part]. It's inappropriate."
  • "If you don't stop bothering me, I'm going to tell the driver or call the police."
  • Addressing the public - "This person is harassing me. He/She did [insert action.]" (Sometimes having attention called to them will make them embarrassed and they will stop. These are the creeps who expect you take the abuse quietly.)
  • "I don't want to talk to you, please leave me alone."
  • "I'm not interested in giving you my number/name/info. Please stop asking."

Talking back to a harasser can be an empowering experience that shifts the balance from victim to activist, but don't feel that you always have to speak up or confront an aggressor. It is perfectly valid to ignore it, walk away from it, or fake a polite facade - we can never predict how someone is going to respond to our reaction anyways. Do what makes you feel safest.

Share your story. Whether it's on Facebook, other social media, or with your transit provider. Make people aware of what goes on - there's power in sharing a story. You can choose to file a formal complaint if you prefer, but make sure to share your experiences with someone you trust. Harassment is a heavy burden to carry on your own.

Even if it changes nothing, I always try to express sympathy to friends and acquaintances that share their public transit harassment stories on the internet. From a mental standpoint, it's so important to know that someone's listening to you, understands your fear and embarrassment, and is willing to validate you.

Hopefully, we can look forward to a future where sexual harassment on public transit becomes a rarity that's taken seriously instead of the normalized epidemic that it currently is.

Have you ever been harassed on a bus or train? How did you respond? What happened? Share your story in the comments section below.


  1. Great post!
    Can you follow me? I follow you :)

    Have a nice day!


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