By Claire Zillman
August 24, 2017

U.K. Labour MP Chris Williamson likely didn’t know what he was getting himself into. (And that’s part of the problem.)

After reviewing a British Transport Police report that showed 1,448 sexual offenses on trains in 2016-2017—more than double the total from four years ago—he suggested exploring the idea of female-only train carriages to create “safe spaces” for women.

To be fair, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn floated this same policy in 2015, but later dropped it; perhaps the backlash Williamson received explains why.

Labour MP Jess Phillips said Williamson’s proposal was an “absolutely terrible idea.”

“It is essentially giving up on trying to prosecute assaults,” she said.

Former Labour Transport Secretary Andrew Adonis dismissed the idea, saying women would find it “grossly insulting.”

Indeed, someone was so offended that he or she posted a sign on Williamson’s office door that mocked his proposal: “Woman? Sexually harassed at work? How about working on your own floor?”

While countries like Japan, Brazil, Mexico, and India have piloted women-only transportation to cut down on assault and harassment, the approach is a version of victim-blaming. Rather than policing wrongdoing, it lets bad actors off the hook. Instead of demanding a change in attitude and behavior, it put the onus on women to cordon themselves off, lest they tempt men into issuing a sexist quip or committing an abusive act.

As Labour MP Stella Creasy put it: “We need to be clear [that the attackers] are the problem, not women’s seating plans.”

—@clairezillman

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