WARNING: This piece mentions topics of sexual assault and harassment
I can barely breathe as I step one foot off the bus. The air is cold, and the wind nips my skin. His presence clings to me like plastic wrap, thoughts of him echoing through my mind. A group of students push past me in a rush to get to class. His leering eye lingers as the bus pulls away.
My puffer jacket does little to protect me from the cold, and I wrap my arms around my body, providing myself with some warmth as a shiver runs down my spine. My mind begins to drift with each step I take down the hill.
The bus was unusually busy this morning, but I managed to find the last empty seat near the back. At the next stop, a man sits down next to me, a hair’s breadth apart. The smell of coffee and cologne wafts into my nose and I start to feel myself take rapid shallow breaths. Edging closer to the window, I look outside and put my headphones in.
Digging my nails into my palm, I come across a cafe and step inside. The warmth relaxes my shoulders and thankfully there is no line. I go up, order, and step aside.
I feel movement coming from beside me but focus on watching the buildings and trees move past. I feel a hand brush my thigh, I ignore it, hoping it was an accident. His hand still lingers, and my leg starts to tremble. Before I could even have a chance to react his hand makes contact…
“Katie!” Startled; I notice the barista is calling my name with my coffee in hand.
Taking a sip of my coffee, an odd feeling settles in my stomach as I walk through the campus towards the lecture room. Observing the students loitering around with their friends. I take this same trip to class every day, but I feel as if I’m walking through a blizzard and the chatting students fade into a muffled sound.
My heart beats so fast that my chest starts to ache, and I abruptly swat his hand away and look around to see if anyone had noticed. Everyone seems distracted. Except for one woman, we make eye contact for a split second, but just as quickly, she turns away.
I only now realise that I stopped walking and find myself standing still outside the lecture building. Students walk past me and give me a weird look. I continue to stare at the sliding doors and my whole body starts to shake. Taking my phone out of my jeans pocket I stare at the blank screen.
My fingers rapidly tap my thigh, and the bus starts to feel like a sauna. I stay silent but I feel him watching me. I feel caged in with no escape. My bus stop emerges in the distance, and I prepare to stand up.
“E-excuse me” I stutter but he doesn’t budge. His legs block my path and I climb over them itching to get off this vehicle. His gaze burns into my back as I walk to the front.
A tap on my shoulder makes me jump and I turn around to see my classmate looking at me with a big smile, I break eye contact and press my nails into my palms.
“I need to talk to you”. She notices the expression across my face and her smile drops, contorting into a frown as she grasps my arm and leads me away from the door.
By Ebony Heins
For many university students, public transport is a necessity. But is also a space that many have experienced sexual harassment and assault. A 2019 survey out of the University of Melbourne found that 79.4%, almost four-fifths, of female students said they had been victims of ‘unwanted sexual gestures, comments, advances, exposed genital, groping or being followed on public transport in the previous three years.’ And, over half of male students, 51.7%, reported being victimised in similar manors, although groping and stalking were much less common. Additionally, 58.9% of women report having to actively try to reduce their risk of being victimised on public transport. They do this by avoiding certain routes, stops, and times of day, being met at a stop by a friend or family member, and being constantly on alert. Just under half of female students do not use public transport due to fear of victimisation.
Only 5.7% of these students reported the incident to anyone in authority. Universities are not in control of public transport, but public transport is a part of student experience. In the 2021 Town Hall, UC Vice Chancellor Paddy Nixon said he wishes to work with both the SRC and the student body to improve public transport to the university, asking students to lobby politicians and the transport authority. If this is the goal, the university needs also to commit to lobbying these same politicians and transport authorities to create programs and better support services and reporting pathways that can address harassment and assault on public transport.