A new undercover police squad — comprised predominantly of young female officers — has been unleashed upon Bogota’s public transport system to curb increasing reports of sexual assaults on women by fellow passengers in Colombia’s capital.
Bogota’s police department organized a new undercover police unit earlier this year in response to the rising problem of groping and other sexual assaults on the busy TransMilenio bus service. The unit is comprised of 11 undercover officers, seven of whom are young women.
Lina Maria Rios, head of the new unit, argues that the new approach seems to be working, as the number of arrests for sexual assault on buses has fallen since its inauguration.
The TransMilenio bus system in Bogota transports more than two million people daily and has been the brunt of many jokes on social media and in the Colombian media in recent years, due to congestion and security problems.
The extreme crowding at peak hours leads to cramped conditions and people forced up against each other, a situation in which many unscrupulous men have been taking advantage. There have been reports of men openly pleasuring themselves next to female victims; however, the most common complaints are groping and inappropriate touching by male perpetrators.
The BBC reported that in a recent survey, a quarter of men in Bogota were of the opinion that there was nothing wrong with grabbing, groping, or fondling a fellow passenger.
Officers have been keeping their eyes peeled for potential offenders who stare at women’s breasts or behinds, who lean too heavily against women, or keep their hands down when it would be more convenient to hold on to the handrails. They will only approach once inappropriate contact has been made.
The undercover police officers travel on the buses at the busiest times of day and concentrate on areas where high levels of abuse have been reported.
The Caracas TransMilenio zone is a hot-spot for assaults. In 2014 there have been multiple cases:
- 8 reported cases in Jimenez station.
- 7 reported cases in Ricaurte station.
- 6 reported cases in Escuela Militar station.
- 6 reported cases in Marly station.
Rios states that the new unit has three main aims: to identify offenders while travelling on the buses, to arrest them in the case of an assault, and to protect female travelers.
According to the BBC, in a survey released two years ago, six out of 10 female bus users in Bogota reported that they had been sexually harassed while using the public transport system.
Contrary to negative reports in local media in response to the young female officers wearing tight jeans to the media launch, Rios denies the fact that the officers are chosen for their looks to act as “honey traps” for men. In an interview with the BBC, Nestor, a male officer on the team said:
“That would be entrapment. We would be the ones committing the crime.”
The members of the new unit are all experienced undercover officers, many of whom had experience working within the TransMilenio system fighting high levels of pickpocketing and petty theft.
A representative of the unit said that there are more women due to the nature of the job, so as not to further concern at risk female passengers by having another man staring at her in the case of a potential attack.
“It’s also about letting women know they’re not alone, that the women in the police force have their backs,” said Rios.
According to Colombian newspaper El tiempo, there have been 129 cases of sexual assault on the TransMilenio system this year alone, an increase of 89.7% since 2013.
The new unit’s main aim is not just to physically catch offenders; however, but more to offer support to victims and ensure that cases are filed against offenders.
Local media reports show a concerning trend of passengers turning a blind eye to assaults, even when the victims appeal for help.
The idea is to offer a quick response team which can show the victims and the public in general that the crime is being taken seriously, and ensure a criminal charge for the offender. Officers said that many assaults go unreported as women do not feel that they will be taken seriously.
Although the new unit appears to be making some progress in discouraging attacks, it is limited by the leniency of Colombian criminal law in relation to sexual assault. The majority of offenders will be released without punishment.
As reported by El Tiempo, Bogota Sex pest Jorge Alonso Rodriguez Ortiz has been arrested four times since 2012 for sexually assaulting women on the bus system, and still remains free due to current legislation failing to offer judges penal sentences for this type of crime.