As schools return from the summer break this week, a local charity has launched a campaign to protect vulnerable adults from abusive youngsters.
The Pembury-based charity Pepenbury, which supports people with learning difficulties, has become alarmed at the number of their service users who are being targeted on public transport.
“Our service users have reported many instances of name-calling, laughing and pointing, sometimes even physical abuse,” said charity spokesperson Camilla Slattery.
“This is obviously very intimidating, it would be for anyone, but especially for those who are vulnerable.
“We are working to build up our users’ confidence, to enable people to become more independent, but these incidences of harassment really set people back and undo a lot of the progress they make.”
Kevin Edwards, 53, is one person who has faced abuse and harassment. For him it was on the 402 bus, which travels between Tunbridge Wells and Bromley. With permission from his support worker, he talked to the Times about his experience:
“I was on the bus and this big group of boys started pushing me up against the window. They started to swear and spit at me. One boy spat on my shoes and another in my eye.
“It’s made me feel terrible and worried whenever I get on the bus. People don’t help me, they just keep themselves to themselves.”
Incidents such as these are by no means uncommon, with Pepenbury claiming that a number of their service users refuse to get on buses since they are too intimidated by schoolchildren.
As well as suggesting schools should cover these issues more prominently in Anti-Bullying Week in November, Ms Slattery had a message to parents:
“I would really encourage them to talk to their children about disabilities and about respecting differences. Obviously, they would not want their child to be harassed in this way, it’s a case of treat others how you wish to be treated.
“Also, I think it’s crucial for other travellers to intervene. Often people are on their own and have no one to stand up for them.
A spokesman for the bus company Arriva, Simon Baxter, expressed regret over the incident but reaffirmed that their drivers’ training equipped them with the necessary tools to deal with such incidents:
“Drivers are trained to deal with incidents and depending on the severity they can usually solve them as they occur, and have a number of options at their disposal such as asking people to leave the bus or calling the police.