Rape On The Railways

Reading Emile Zola’s The Beast Within and its translator’s introduction, I am impressed by how much murder, robbery and rape took place on the early railways. The fuss about unaccompanied females was not the mysteriously all-explaining “repression” we invoked in the Sixties, but something quite different. For the Victorian “gentleman” was actually a serial rapist, at least of his social inferiors.

I myself remember the corridorless carriage, but in those days there was no other kind. Should a malefactor step into one of the compartments with you from one station, you were at his mercy until the next. Although the Wiki page does not say so, I wonder whether the reason why train staff were called “guards” was that they had to protect not only the freight but also the bodily integrity of their female passengers. Since the term was carried over from stagecoaches, it seems likely enough.

The ladies-only carriage has seen a revival in our time. I have encountered them in Japan and there is pressure to deploy more of them in India. We males survived this in the 19th century, so I suppose that we can survive it again. (Let me only hope that the railways do not treat the gendered carriages like the old first and second class, assigning each woman ten seats to herself but giving men standing room only.) Ladies-only carriages would, after all, be cheaper than hiring human security, which would reduce the bottom line. Or perhaps we could revive another Victorian solution, the steel hatpin.

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