Metro/Graham Lanktree Julie Lalonde, director of Hollaback! Ottawa, said that video cameras on buses is a start, but true prevention of transit sex assaults comes with bystander intervention.

New video cameras to protect OC Transpo drivers won’t do much to deter a rash of sexual assaults on public transit, argued an international women’s group Tuesday.

“Things like cameras are certainly good as reactive measures,” said Julie Lalonde, director of Hollaback! Ottawa, of a proposal to put video cameras inside buses set to come before the city’s transit commission in May. “The reality is that people today assume they’re being watched and the crime still happens. What is being on camera going to change? Our biggest concern is the lack of bystander intervention.”

Lalonde, whose group aims to document and bring attention to sexual assaults, said the efforts of passengers to detain a man accused of groping a female traveler on a Greyhound bus from Toronto to Ottawa Sunday are to be commended, but that all too often when people on OC Transpo buses see an incident going down, they do nothing.

“We need to create a culture in which, if you try to do this, people will stop you,” she said, noting that often sexual assaults are not reported because the victims are ashamed of the incident. The Sexual Support Centre of Ottawa indicates 78 per cent of attacks go unreported. By OC Transpo’s tally from 2008 to 2012, at most, 14 sexual assaults were documented on their buses annually.

Last week, police charged a 62-year-old man with sexual assault for allegedly groping a woman on a bus. Late last month police arrested another man who has a history of similar accusations against him and charged him for several sexual assaults on public transit between Nov. 2012 and Feb. 2013.

“We want to be the eyes and ears of the public,” said Craig Watson, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279, pointing out that he thinks video cameras are part of the solution. “The cameras will deter and stop it from happening.”

With cameras, Watson said, “once they realize they can be caught, it’s not a free for all.” Video monitoring, he noted, will allow other groups responsible for swarming on buses to be pinpointed as well.

Yet what Lalonde wants is a public service campaign to coax bystanders into taking action and is holding a public meeting May 15 to discuss the issue. “There are always people around when these things happen,” she said. “We need to educate people on how to intervene. There’s no reason to fear intervening will put you in harm’s way.”

Intervening is as simple as asking the perpetrator for directions or which stop to get off at next, Lalonde points out. “If they chose to escalate it, it makes their intentions clear. Then that person realizes all eyes are on them.”

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