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The Toxicity of London’s Bystander Culture

by Faith Suronku-Lindsay 

Trigger Warning: SA topics

Uncomfortable tube journeys are an everyday occurrence for most Londoners. Screaming children, tipsy 20-somethings, and tourists trying to navigate how to get to one of the palaces. 

Amongst all that noise, an everyday occurrence has become one that epitomises sitting still and shutting up, no matter the circumstance. And to what detriment? People’s safety. 

At the forefront of recent British news, a 20 year old woman was raped as she slept, on a morning tube passing through West London, by Ryan Johnston, 37. 

Johnston’s mere nine year sentence has sparked controversy for the lack of justice for victims of sexual offences. Not only was this individual a victim of rape, but also the toxicity of bystander culture in the city. 

Despite often being brushed off as a ‘London attitude’, it is clear that this manner goes far beyond just a cultural norm. It allows people to believe it is better to actively ignore issues and to stay silent, even at the expense of others. 

If not for a French tourist and his young son reporting the incident in its aftermath, would anyone have spoken up? It’s easy to think you wouldn’t have done the same, yet we are a product of our environment. Whether it’s the fear of putting yourself in harms way, or just not knowing how to help. 

Whilst there seems to be an awareness of this behaviour from Transport for London (TfL), evident through the Active Bystander Campaign, launched in March earlier this year. There is arguably little work being done to shift the mindsets of commuters themselves throughout the city. We need to highlight what it means the be an active bystander in public spaces and to educate people on how to react and help. 

Born and raised in the capital myself, I’m often referred to as ‘streetwise’. Which in most cases means quiet, passive and willing to ‘just get on with it’. We need to begin actively subverting those expectations, in which ‘standing by’ is no longer the norm.

Of course, this is not merely a London issue, and to suggest otherwise would be to ignore the danger to women and female-identifying individuals around the world. However, questioning wrongs is an important first step to shifting mindsets of how we should deal with injustice. 

With a third of women admitting to having been a victim of sexual offences on the train or tube, there is a clear need to change and unlearn behaviours. Why should we be subjected to harassment on our morning commute to work? 

Edited by Emily Duff

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