WARNING: This story discusses sexual violence
Transit police in the Lower Mainland are investigating after a woman received several photos containing “extremely disturbing sexual threats” while on a bus in Surrey, believed to be from someone also riding the bus.
Metro Vancouver Transit Police say the incident happened around 11 p.m. on July 14, after the woman got on a bus at the Newton Exchange.
“Shortly after sitting down, she received multiple AirDrop messages that contained extremely disturbing sexual threats. The woman did look around the bus and noticed there was about 15 other people on board,” said Constable Mike Yake, transit police media relations officer.
The woman, who has asked to remain anonymous, targeted by the messages shared the ordeal on Facebook on July 15.
She said that “within minutes” of sitting down, she received an AirDrop image request. The image was black except for a short sentence in white which read: “I’m going to rape you.”
AirDrop is a service on Apple iPhones and other products that allows a person to transfer a file to a similar device wirelessly. People can change their settings to receive AirDrops from everyone, contacts only or turn their receiving off.
“It was really quick. I was kind of processing it just as the bus started driving away from the exchange and I was like, ‘Now I’m on this bus that’s moving with a message like this on my phone. If it’s real, what do I do?’” she told the Now-Leader a few days after the incident.
The woman said that she then sent a screenshot of the AirDrop request to a friend, who offered to pick her up.
Before contacting transit police, the woman said she received the request twice more.
She then texted transit police, who she said was “helpful and start[ed] asking lots of questions.”
Yake said the woman got off the bus at a stop in South Surrey to have her friend pick her up and transit police officers met her “a short time later.”
The incident, he said, is being “actively investigated.”
Yake said he can’t go into detail regarding the specific investigation techniques, “but we do have the ability through our investigation to possibly locate individuals who were on the bus at a specific time.”
Since the July 14 incident, the victim said she has talked further with transit police to “build a bigger picture.”
She also said she has since changed her AirDrop settings to “contacts only” and her name is no longer displayed.
“I’ve had it set [to everyone] for years. I’ve had an iPhone for years, different iPhones for years. And I’ve always had it set so anyone could send me messages … I’ve never experienced it that some stranger was sending me something.”
Going forward, she said she will be doing things differently when taking transit.
“First, when getting on the bus or the SkyTrain to kind of scan my surroundings and be aware of who’s around me. I tend to be the person who kind of keeps to myself and I’m not looking around at other people and making eye contact, but I think it’s really important to be aware”
She added that in retrospect, she could have gone up to the bus driver while she was receiving the messages to potentially stop the bus.
Asked if there was anything she would like to say to the person who sent the message, she said: “The more I think about it, especially with young men.. and things like this if they’re just going along with it, you need to step up and have those conversations with your friends around you.
“If you don’t think something is right, or if you’re just going along with something, you are inadvertently saying that that’s OK. If you think something’s wrong, stand up and speak your opinion about it.”
As for incidents like this, Yake said transit police “strongly” encouraged people in the Lower Mainland riding on TransLink buses to “discreetly” text 87-77-77, “whether they’re feeling uncomfortable or in a situation that they feel is going to unfold.”
By texting that number the person will then be in “direct contact” with dispatchers and officers can be sent to wherever the incident is happening.
Yake added that reducing sexual offences is “one of Metro Vancouver Transit Police’s top-four priorities, so we take incidents like this extremely seriously and it’s going to be investigated to our full capabilities.”