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Portraits on the Tube

Written by Mikayla Lorini, Photography by Fran Clark and Smit Vaidya

As London rebounds from the COVID-19 pandemic, many were anticipating the reopening of the night tube considering its integral part to London nightlife. While the announcement from almost a month ago that the Victoria and Central lines would resume 24 hour services was exciting to many, it still left many women unsettled. Considering the deaths of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa are still fresh in everyone’s mind, this is especially true for the women of London.

Women’s safety has been and continues to be a pressing issue for women all over the world, particularly in busy cities like London. To get to a more personal level on this issue, we interviewed four young women about their feelings of safety on London public transit, along with a photoshoot inspired by the issue. Here are their stories:

Question: How do you feel about the night tube reopening?

“I’m personally really excited about taking the night tube because it hasn’t been open since I’ve been in London. I’ve had quite a few experiences where I’ve had to get a bus that stops further away from where I live etc., and I’ve been followed home or harassed on my walk home so I’m hoping that’ll increase my feelings of safety once able to take the night tube.” – Khanya

“I think the reopening of the night tube will make travelling back a lot cheaper. Ubers can be really expensive late at night and so people often walk rather than pay, so it’s an option that’s a lot more affordable. I personally would feel safer as the journey would be a lot quicker.” – Emma

Question: How has going out and getting home been without the night tube?

“Long and kind of scary because your walk home is longer if you have to take buses, and also the people I guess that you encounter on buses are different than the people you find in tubes, and it’s just quicker, so there’s like less exposure to certain situations that you might not be comfortable in.” – Flora

“Since I’ve been here, it’s been a lot of walking especially when like night buses aren’t coming, which can be kind of annoying, or, I have this happen on the bus as much as the tube, when I feel like I’m being followed, which is so scary especially if you’re you know going to leave a club by yourself and it’s late and it’s dark out, you don’t know exactly how to get home and you’ve got quite a long walk. I find it kind of scary to be honest, since moving to a city like London, it’s not like being at home where I know where I’m going, I know where everything is, and London is very scary, and you don’t know who on earth is out there.” - Hebe

Question: Do you feel safe on public transit?

“Umm, that’s actually a hard question … I generally do feel safe on transit just because there tends to normally be a lot of other people around me, but I don’t actually feel safe if I’ve just been one of the people on a tube carriage or on the bus.” – Khanya

“In general, I do not feel safe on public transport… I don’t know. Because it’s a situation where I feel there’s no security or no one is really looking at what’s happening, and I feel like that’s a situation in which if anything were to happen, no one would step in. And just being a woman in general, I don’t have good experiences in public transport, and I also think not a lot of women do in general, so no.” – Flora

Question: Do your feelings of safety change depending on time of day?

“In the day, definitely more safe than say at night, but I’ve had bad experiences you know anytime of the day as well. In general, I wouldn’t say I feel safe, especially you know if I’m on my own. It’s different if you have a group of people, but if I’m on my own I definitely don’t feel safe on the tube.” - Hebe

“Yeah, my feelings of safety really do change depending on if it’s night or day. But mainly it changes depending on whether I’m in an isolated area or not. I don’t feel safe even during the day if I’m on my own in an isolated area, however it’s definitely more heightened as soon as it gets dark.” - Emma

Question: Have you ever had a negative or positive experience that’s really resonated with you in terms of safety?

“Yeah, I’ve definitely had a few bad experiences in my time on the tube especially at night, and it made me feel awful. You know it’s just drunk men that think they can just say what they want to you because when you’re on the tube, there’s like nowhere to go if you’re in between stations. It’s not really like you can run away from it, especially at night when there’s less people to see what’s going on. So, they think they can say the most disgusting and horrible things to you since no one else is there, there’s no one else to say anything so they just could do what they want.” – Hebe

“So, when I was younger, I used to take the tube to get to school, and it used to be so packed that maybe men or people in general, but normally men, would get away with like inappropriate touching because they just did, and if you ever said anything it would be like, ‘Oh, it’s packed. I’m not doing it on purpose.” So, yeah that has happened multiple times and still happens today, but today, I feel like I know how to stand up for myself a little better.” – Flora

“Actually, last week I was taking the bus, and it was really late, so I couldn’t take the tube home, and a man started harassing me at the bus stop. So, I assumed that we’d get on different buses, but he figured out what bus I was getting on, and he chased me onto the bus. Luckily, I was able to sit next to someone else, so he couldn’t sit around me because it was quite full. But, that definitely resonated with me because I thought of getting on how to transport as my kind of escape from being catcalled or harassed in the streets etc., and I felt more safe there, but that’s not necessarily true.” – Khanya

“Let me think. To be honest, I think growing up you realize it a lot more, especially as you get a bit older and creepy men start calling out things to you and stuff, and it makes you more vigilant and realize how you have to change your own behaviour just to be safe, which is really unfair. My point is that cat calling and men making comments has increased as I’ve grown up, and it has become a much more regular occurrence. It made me realize that the advice your parents gave you when you were younger to not take shortcuts and stay out in the dark on your own really is important - I’ve become less naive and more aware of taking my safety in my own hands. I didn’t listen when I was younger until I grew up and experienced these things, it made me less naive.” – Emma

The lines previously mentioned will be reopening November 27th, 2021, and other lines are aimed to reopen sometime in 2022. However, as these brave young women have shown us, the night tube may help us feel safer, but it does not solve the problem. If you have a story like this or want to learn more, watch out for our new project called “Talks on the Tracks.”


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