On November 14, The Age reported that pink taxis for women, and driven by women, could soon be on the streets of Melbourne.
To suggest that the best way to stop sexual assault is through this kind of segregation is positively mediaeval. It's utterly backward and more than a bit condescending - let's just keep women away from men, you know, for their own good. It's like the '60s never happened.
No no, it would be far too difficult to explain to the predators that it is never all right to assault, harass or sexually intimidate any other person, regardless of their gender, what they're wearing, how much they've had to drink or how friendly or otherwise they are.
It would be much too much effort to implement a hard-line policy under which no offender was let off, allowed to continue driving and harassing.
No, apparently the best way to stop attacks in taxis is to remove the victim. Create another space in which women are unwelcome, lest they appear to be ''asking for it''. In the same way that so often, victims of rape and sexual assault are asked ''Why were you out alone?'', ''What were you wearing?'', ''How much had you had to drink?'' They'll be asked ''What were you doing in a male-driven taxi?'', ''Why weren't you in a lovely pink rapist-free lady taxi?''
The idea of protecting women through female-only taxis also implies that no male taxi driver is to be trusted. It insults and besmirches the reputation of every decent other human being-respecting, law-abiding male driver. Is this really the message taxi companies want to send about their employees?
The taxi industry inquiry, led by Professor Allan Fels, admitted the safety of women in cabs was an issue, but made no specific recommendations for improvement. This is particularly surprising, as I, just off the top of my head, can offer quite a few:
You could, perhaps advise and educate drivers that all women, not just their own relations, should be free to access the service they provide without being subject to this sort of stone-age behaviour;
You could, perhaps, implement a no-tolerance, no-second-chances policy for any driver found to have intimidated, threatened, harassed or worse;
We could, as a wider community, encourage women to speak up about their experiences of intimidation, threats or harassment.
Don't let people get away with it, and make it known that this will not be tolerated. This is all very simple stuff.
When an employee (and we must remember that taxi drivers are employees and therefore representatives of the company for which they work) behaves in a sexually inappropriate way, and no substantial action is taken by their employer, the employer is equally guilty. When someone like TaxiLink's Harry Katsiabanis says, no, let's not stop our drivers harassing and assaulting women, instead, let's just not give them any women to harass or assault, they are essentially condoning, or at least, complicit by their acceptance of this behaviour. (There's a lot of truth in Edmund Burke's ''The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing'').
Of course, it's not all taxi drivers. I don't mean to suggest they're all sex-crazed mindless psychopaths, even though the creation of a female-only service seems to suggest that they are. I travel in taxis frequently, when I've been out on the weekend past the last train (what the hell, Melbourne? 1am is too early to cease all public transport!) or I'm coming home from the airport (once again, what the hell, Melbourne? Every other major city has an airport train!).
I've met many wonderful, friendly, not in the least bit intimidating or aggressive drivers and had enlightening and enjoyable conversations about everything from terrible pop music to cricket to the Australian gold rush and its impact on trends in current investment. I have the utmost respect for those drivers - they are not the drivers I am talking about.
The three complaints a month from female passengers is three complaints a month too many (considering the stigma placed on women who have the courage to report assault, one can only wonder at how many things go unreported) and an issue that needs to be tackled head on, not from a wishy-washy, paternalistic, patronising standpoint, like women-only pink taxis.
Sarah Kirby is a musician and master's student at the University of Melbourne.