QUITO – The Ecuadorian capital has intensified the fight against sexual harassment with the expansion of the ongoing campaign to protect victims on board public transportation, a campaign that – to date – has resulted in four men being convicted and sentenced to jail terms of between one and three years for committing lewd and lascivious acts targeting female passengers.
The “Down with harassment” campaign was launched because of alarming statistics released two years ago by United Nations Women showing that 81 percent of women felt they had been harassed or victimized on Ecuador’s public transport system and 91 percent saying they had experienced sexual harassment in public in general, according to the president of the San Jose Municipal Board, Maria Fernanda Pacheco.
Pacheco told EFE that the Quito public transport system has more than one million users per day, meaning that 70 percent of the city’s working or active population uses municipal transportation.
Although oftentimes victims do not present harassment complaints at the booths set up to receive them in certain public transport stations, even so over the past two years there have been more than 400 reports of sexual harassment on public transportation at those offices.
If someone feels that they are being sexually harassed, they can send a free text message by mobile device to No. 6367, whereupon the operations center communicates immediately with the driver or operator of the public transport vehicle and announced over a loudspeaker “At this time a situation of sexual harassment on this transport unit has been reported. We ask passengers to remain alert and respect those who are beside them.”
The complaint is also relayed immediately to officials at the next station and to the city police.
“The important thing is that there’s follow-up. On average, it takes us 58 seconds to return the call to the person who made the report,” said Pacheco, adding that so far 560 reports have been made by women and, of those, 24 have resulted in legal proceedings, including four prison sentences for the convicted victimizers.
The system, which has been in operation since March, is in place on 120 buses and will be expanded to 220 vehicles in the capital’s public transport network.