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London Underground Rapist Jailed: Sexual Violence and the Bystander Effect

Content Warning: Sexual Violence


 


A predator who sexually assaulted and raped a sleeping woman on the tube in February 2020 has been jailed for nine years.


Ryan Johnston, 37, approached the victim and attacked her in view of other passengers, including an 11-year-old child, on a busy service.


On the same day, two women saw Johnston masturbating, and he chased them down the street to their home.


Johnston was sentenced to nine years imprisonment, with a further five on licence at Inner London Crown Court. He was also placed on the sex offenders register indefinitely.


Investigating officer, Detective Constable Kathrine Spencer, said of the incident: "The offences committed by Ryan Johnston show him to be a dangerous individual who viewed women with contempt.


“He was simply concerned with his own sexual gratification at any cost. I hope this sends out a strong message to survivors of these offences that we will do all we can to bring offenders to justice to make society a safer place." 


 


While the details of this case have shocked many, incidents of this nature are all too common. The British Transport Police revealed this year that a third of women travelling by train or Tube have been subjected to sexual harassment or assault. While 51% of victims said other passengers had stepped in to help, just one in five witnesses reported the incident to the police.


 


The incident has sparked outrage on social media. The assault happened on a busy tube service, leading many to question why no one intervened. One X user said: “What sort of people sit by and watch a rape on the tube?”


 


The bystander effect is a psychological theory highlighting that the greater the number of bystanders who witness an incident, the less likely it is that someone will intervene.


 


Research has shown that in sexual assaults against women, witnesses who are male, hold sexist attitudes, or are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, are less likely to take action to help a woman who seems unable to consent.


 


The University of Cambridge’s research shows that bystanders play a “key role in preventing, discouraging, and/or intervening when an act of violence has the potential to occur”.


 


They outline the ABC approach, which can help someone chose to be an active bystander. This is as follows: Assess for safety, Be in a group, and Care for the victim.


 


Emma Kay, the founder of WalkSafe, the UK’s leading personal safety app, said in a TikTok: “I can’t believe people aren’t showing up for other people in the world.


 “Being an active bystander is so important, and we’ve let that girl down.”


 


One user responded: “My heart is broken. Women shouldn’t be living in fear like this. The bystander effect is so bad, I’ve seen it myself. Sickening.”


 


Another user responded, saying: “As a young woman moving to London in the next few weeks, this is incredibly scary. That poor woman.”


 


TfL and the Metropolitan Police Service have recognised the severity of the issue of sexual offences on public transport. In January this year, TfL launched a sexual harassment campaign across their services, as well as training frontline staff on the issues. This campaign aims to set out clear guidance on how members of the public can safely intervene when witnessing sexual violence.


 


Crucially, TfL are clear in that they are not asking members of the public to police the network but are asking for their help as witnesses and active bystanders.


 


London's Deputy Mayor for Transport, Seb Dance, said: "Everyone should feel safe and be safe at all times when travelling around London. That is why I welcome TfL launching this new campaign which will help Londoners to look out for each other when travelling around the city, setting out how people can safely support one another and highlighting how to report any incidents on TfL's network. The Mayor and I are clear that the safety of women and girls is a key priority and TfL takes a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of sexual harassment on London's public transport network. This campaign is an important part of the Mayor's drive to build a safer London for everyone.”


 


Claire Barnett, Executive Director, UN Women UK, said: "After years of calling for safe spaces now, I am so inspired and hopeful to see our partner TfL stepping up and addressing the root cause of sexual harassment - the unacceptable behaviours that we tolerate as a society on a daily basis. We hope that this campaign will be a conversation starter, helping people to speak to each other about grey areas and positive behaviours, reach out to learn more about what they can do, and take action now." 


 


 


For more information about reporting and recovering from rape and sexual abuse, you can contact Rape Crisis on 0808 500 2222.


 


"london underground - the tube inside" by Paolo Margari | paolomargari.eu is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.


 


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