4 July 2008 – Toronto. Police report the arrest of a paratransit driver charged with sexual assaulting a passenger with cerebral palsy and threatening to kill her. This alleged crime may seem like an unusual event, but it isn’t. In fact, this is the third Toronto paratransit driver charged with sexually assaulting a passenger in the last six months.
Of course, this problem is not unique to Toronto, hundreds people with disabilities have reported sexual assaults over the years and there is reason to believe that the vast majority of cases go unreported. Based on the cases that are reported, the most frequent disability among passengers with disabilities who are assaulted by transportation providers are intellectual disabilities. They are often selected because they are viewed by offenders as unable or unlikely to report or to be believed if they do report. Based on our data on 622 passengers with disabilities who were sexually assaulted by transportation providers, almost half (297) were described as having intellectual or developmental disabilities.
Many of the drivers implicated in these crimes have previous arrest and conviction records for crimes such as rape, murder, domestic violence, child sexual abuse, aggravated assault, assault with a deadly weapon. Some are registered sex offenders. Often mass transit agencies sub-contract para-transit services to the lowest bidders who are more concerned in with finding cheap labour than with passenger safety.
Criminologists who study transit crime use the term “captive passengers” to describe the riders who have no alternatives to transit service. Captive passengers may lack the economic means or abilities to use other forms of transportation, and therefore they will continue to use the service no matter how bad or dangerous it gets. Maybe passengers with disabilities are the ultimate captive passengers and therefore there is little incentive for service providers to make the services more functional or safer.