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'Sit in the back to stay safe': Women get familiar 'advice' amid taxi sex assaults

There's been a spike in reported sex assaults in Halifax cabs, but a lot of the talk seems to be about what seat women should sit in.

Women have reported several sexual assaults committed by taxi drivers in Halifax, but the efforts to prevent them have put the responsibility on the shoulders of women. Again.

Torstar News Service/File

Women have reported several sexual assaults committed by taxi drivers in Halifax, but the efforts to prevent them have put the responsibility on the shoulders of women. Again.

After a night out downtown, getting a cab to take me home doesn’t feel safe anymore. And that’s not OK.

Five women, most between 19-25 years old, told police they were sexually assaulted by a taxi driver in Halifax this year. Over the past few months everyone from Mayor Mike Savage to cabbies have weighed in with ideas like dash cams, GPS, partitions, and better regulations.

While people have been talking, three of those assaults happened this month.

For a city that’s had one to three sexual assaults each year related to cab drivers, it’s extra alarming to see double those numbers. One has to wonder why.

Are more men taking advantage of what’s essentially a public service to commit assault. Or has the extra awareness helped more women stand up and report the crimes? Maybe both?

There’s often a level of tension as a woman when you get in a Halifax cab now, but of course many drivers bring up the assaults and say they’re as angry about the crimes as anyone, if not more so.  One Halifax cabbie even took it upon himself to create “safe in my cab” stickers for his windows in an effort to make riders feel better.

Halifax taxi driver Lee Sampson says he wanted to create stickers to reassure his passengers that his vehicle is a safe ride.

Jeff Harper/Metro

Halifax taxi driver Lee Sampson says he wanted to create stickers to reassure his passengers that his vehicle is a safe ride.

That tension has also brought up ugly racist views and comments.

Police have described the suspects as “Middle Eastern,” which they say is the term victims have used, but has also been used to fan the flames of those calling for “foreigners” to be banned from driving taxis and even kicked out of the country. That conversation is not helping women or drivers to feel safe.

Halifax Regional Police have thankfully laid charges in two of the cases this year — but while they keep looking for the drivers who haven’t been caught, too much of the conversation has been around what women can do to keep themselves safe.

This week, Halifax police sent out tips for women getting into cabs, which echoed what Dave Buffet of the Halifax Taxi Drivers Owners Association and others have said — sit in the back right seat farthest from reach, don’t travel alone, take down the cab’s roof light, keep your phone out, and make sure a taxi licence is on display.

Did you get all that? How is every woman expected to keep that in her head, especially if she’s had a few drinks? Will there be a test of things I should have followed?

Good to know jotting down a rooflight is enough to prevent a groping.

Halifax is a city with a small-town feel, and it's not unusual for a passenger to sit in the front seat of a taxi.

Metro File Photo

Halifax is a city with a small-town feel, and it's not unusual for a passenger to sit in the front seat of a taxi.

Halifax is known as friendly, and as cities go we have a small-town feel where sitting in the front of a cab has never been a big deal, even though that would be unusual in Toronto or New York.

While police frame the tips as common sense and an unfortunate reality, Buffet is urging a campaign on sitting in the back since most of the assaults happened with a woman sitting up front - and “I suppose it’s more tempting for the type of person who would commit these acts.”

If the next woman is assaulted while sitting in the “correct” seat in the back, where should we sit next? Maybe they can add a sidecar to Halifax cabs?  

It’s alarming in 2016 to have the focus placed so heavily on what women can do to make sure they’re not inappropriately touched or violated.

Police, industry experts, and politicians continue to say the self-preservation stance is not victim blaming.

But when every conversation revolves around what a woman should do, more so than saying loudly and clearly that this is a problem with some drivers and the solution must be found with individuals and their companies, women obviously feel like it’s our job not to slip up.

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