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Sexually secure travel

Some of the measures being taken by Transport Co to minimise harassment

Some bus employees are now trained to intervene when they witness sexual harassment. Photo: Apichart Jinakul

Male and female passengers sit next to each other on an inter-provincial tour bus. The male passenger pretends to fall asleep while putting his hand on the leg of the lady sitting next to him.

That's a sexual harassment scenario Prasert Panjaroenthakonkun, a tour-bus driver with 18 years of experiences, has witnessed most often.

"When that happens, the female passenger will inform us or ask to change her seat, which we gladly oblige," said Prasert. "I see this kind of incident happening about twice a year. There hasn't been any worse scenario from what I've experienced. But as we also have hundreds of buses operating out there, we don't always know the amount or the extent to which these incidents take place."

New Year holiday is approaching. For many Thais, that means hopping on a tour bus to go on vacation or return to their hometown. In preparation for this influx of commuters, the Safe Cities for Women campaign and state-owned tour-bus operator Transport Co (Bor Kor Sor) are working together to tighten on-board security, especially against sexual harassment towards women. Their partnership was announced last month at an event held inside Mo Chit bus terminal in Bangkok. The project is also supported by Action Aid, the Women Wellbeing programme, Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation, Four Regions Slum Network and Thai Health Promotion Foundation.

A survey conducted by the Safe Cities for Women has found that 45% of female passengers within metropolitan Bangkok have faced sexual harassment while commuting on public transport. With over 80,000 passengers commuting via Bor Kor Sor tour buses daily, there are risks that harassment could take place on these buses too.

Based on information from Safe Cities, some common forms of sexual harassment found on public transportation -- in addition to inappropriate touching -- include cat calls, dirty talk, rude gazes, rubbing against the victim's body, and even showing porn.

Bor Kor Sor currently has 480 tour buses running throughout the country, plus over 4,000 private-owned vehicles under its management, as well as 2,800 staff members. Recognising the important role on-board staff -- from bus drivers to bus hostesses -- and even fellow passengers could play, Safe Cities has been working relentlessly with the bus operator in adding preventive measures to ensure everybody's safety as the holiday season begins.

Bus driver Prasert Panjaroenthakonkun. Photo: Melalin Mahavongtrakul

Their co-operation has seen a first batch of 70 staff members -- 40 drivers plus 30 hospitality staff members -- receiving training on how to approach and handle sexual harassment. The event at Mo Chit bus terminal also saw the launch of a staff handbook on how to best pueak, or "butt in", when the situation calls for it. The handbook details behaviours that are considered sexual harassment and what staff can do to intervene. This information is also available in an e-learning format at www.teampueak.org.

Varaporn Chamsanit, from the Women Wellbeing programme, was involved in the staff training process. She reported that all participating members have witnessed sexual harassment while on duty. Some received training years ago, though lately the knowledge on how to handle harassment is mostly passed on informally.

"While they are not really trained for it, these staff members have been handling issues in quite a similar way to that provided in the handbook, which includes asking passengers to switch seats or giving perpetrators some warning," said Varaporn. She revealed that there is also a plan to train staff to become trainers so that they can help spread this information to fellow staff members.

Among the drivers being instructed was Prasert, who said he was glad to undergo the training in hopes that it could reassure passengers regarding on-board safety and security.

"It is our responsibility to make sure passengers travel comfortably and free of worries. When they reach their destination safely, feeling good that staff like us have taken good care of them, some have complimented us and we feel happy and proud for that," said Prasert.

Jirasak Yaowatsakul, managing director of Transport Co, considers this a big step for the bus operator, adding that he will be ready for any future collaboration to further improve the tour bus service for all passengers. Aside from existing CCTV cameras available at the bus terminals, there is now plan to add on-board surveillance cameras as an extra form of protection, and also to serve as a source of evidence should it become necessary. The cameras should be installed on all buses by mid-2019.

"We try to prevent sexual harassment among passengers from the moment they buy tickets. We ask women if they are travelling alone, and what seat they prefer," explained Jirasak.

"We do our best to group women together, assigning them in seats that can be easily watched over by our staff members."

In order to raise awareness of all passengers travelling with Bor Kor Sor, a short video clip will also be played on every tour bus to educate them on what to do if they fall victim to sexual harassment. The clip comes with demonstrations on how to react in different situations, which should be easily applicable in real life. Some of the suggested actions are letting the perpetrator know you're aware of his behaviour, changing seats and calling out for help.

Fellow passengers are encouraged to step in and offer aid to the victims. Different ways on how to do so include alerting other passengers, calling out the perpetrator, informing staff, and even taking video clips of the incident to be used as evidence.

More details for both passengers and staff on how to handle sexual harassment can be found on www.teampueak.org.

Handbook for public transport staff on how to pueak, or 'butt in', in the face of sexual harassment. Photo: Melalin Mahavongtrakul

A video will now be played on every Bor Kor Sor tour bus to inform passengers about sexual harassment. www.teampueak.org

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