01/13/2014 10:40 EST | Updated 03/15/2014 05:59 EDT

Sexual Harassment On The Rise On Transit, Say Police

Transit police say sexual harassment on buses and SkyTrains is on the rise, and they are trying to find ways to encourage more women to come forward and report the incidents.                      

Spokeswoman Anne Drennan says in many cases the perpetrators are repeat offenders who target vulnerable women.

Last week, a White Rock man was arrested at the Surrey Central bus loop after allegedly rubbing up against a 21-year-old woman while on the bus. 

Sebastian Ramon Lopez, 37, was arrested and released, but Drennan says Lopez was already well known to them.

"He has had a lot of police contacts.  Out of 150 since 2006, almost 50 of those are with Transit Police," said Drennan.

In another case, which was reported over the weekend but happened in September, a man offered to help a foreign student buy a transit fare at the Gateway SkyTrain station in Surrey.

But after helping her buy the ticket, he began kissing and hugging the woman until she managed to push him away and get on a train.

The victim, a 29-year-old Japanese ESL student, was too traumatized to report the sexual assault at the time — a common theme, Drennan said.

"With ESL students, we find that, first of all, they are very often the targets of these predators," says Drennan. "They're vulnerable because English is not very familiar to them. They don't know how to report it, or who to report it to."

The woman came forward to police several months later, after describing recurring nightmares to her homestay host, who encouraged her to report the incident.

The suspect is described as a balding white man in his late 50s, approximately six feet tall, 170 pounds.He was clean-shaven and was wearing beige pants, a light — possibly green — shirt, a brown jacket and brown shoes, and carrying a brief case the morning of the assault.

Transit Police want users to report cases like this, so they've launched a text hotline where transit users can send messages. The text number to report an assault on transit in real time is 87-77-77.

They're also launching an app next month to make it easier to report predators.       

UBC has also organized a roundtable discussion for Monday evening on how to make transit safer for women.

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