As reports of sexual harassment on the London underground soar, studies say the issue is the number-one safety risk facing girls and women worldwide
Its 8am at Oxford Circus tube station and the Central line platforms are teeming with people. Stony-faced business types, rucksack-touting tourists and yawning schoolchildren jostle for space in the rush-hour crush.
But among the crowds of commuters is another group waiting to board the train a covert patrol of plainclothed officers looking to catch sexual predators in the act.
New research has found that reports of sexual harassment on the London underground have soared by 42% in the last four years. Sadly, its a problem on public transport the world over from the buses of Hanoi to the New York subway.
We know that offenders in every city will target public transport systems as a place to commit offences because of the opportunity it provides, says Mandy McGregor, head of policing and community safety for Transport for London, which is deploying the undercover officers as part of its Project Guardian scheme.
Crowded trains allow offenders to evade detection as they can claim it was accidental or a result of the movement of a vehicle. Women may not know who has assaulted them, particularly during rush hour, and may not react because they are trapped or feel embarrassed to say anything. Groping or touching is the most prevalent offence reported, but were also seeing relatively new offences such as upskirting and viewing pornography while on public transport.