Street harassment is an under-researched topic (though that is changing!), but each existing study shows that street harassment is a significant and prevalent problem. The following sampling of 40 studies focus on prevalence are listed in chronological order.
Feelings of Safety:
Also, notably, Gallup data from surveys in 143 countries in 2011 show that in those countries, including Italy, France, Australia, and the U.S., men are considerably more likely than women to say they feel safe walking alone at night in their communities. The results of the Gallup’s annual Crime Survey, conducted in 2014, found that 37%, of U.S. adults say they would not feel safe walking alone near their home at night. By gender, 45%, of women said they do not feel safe walking alone at night, compared with 27% of men.
40 Academic & Community Studies:
1. Indianapolis, USA: In one of the first street harassment studies ever conducted, Carol Brooks Gardner, associate professor of sociology and women’s studies at Indiana University, Indianapolis, interviewed 293 women in Indianapolis, Indiana, over several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The women were from every race, age, class, and sexual orientation category of the general population in Indiana and the United States. Gardner found that every single woman (100 percent) could cite several examples of being harassed by unknown men in public and all but nine of the women classified those experiences as “troublesome.” (1)
2. Canada: Using a national sample of 12,300 Canadian women ages 18 and older from 1994, sociology professors Ross Macmillan, Annette Nierobisz, and Sandy Welsh studied the impact of street harassment on women’s perceived sense of safety in 2000. During their research, they found that over 80 percent of the women surveyed had experienced male stranger harassment in public and that those experiences had a large and detrimental impact on their perceived safety in public. (2)
3. United States: Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates conducted a nationally representative telephone survey of 612 adult women between June 17 and June 19, 2000. From this survey, they found that almost all women had experienced street harassment: 87 percent of American women between the ages of 18-64 had been harassed by a male stranger; and over one half of them experienced “extreme” harassment including being touched, grabbed, rubbed, brushed or followed by a strange man on the street or other public place. Shattering the myth that street harassment is an urban problem, the survey found that women in all areas experienced it: 90 percent in rural areas, 88 percent in suburban areas, and 87 percent in urban areas. Sadly, 84 percent of women “consider changing their behavior to avoid street harassment.”
4. California Bay Area, USA: Laura Beth Nielsen, professor of sociology and the law at Northwestern University conducted a study of 100 women’s and men’s experiences with offensive speech in the California San Francisco Bay Area in the early 2000s. She found that 100 percent of the 54 women she asked had been the target of offensive or sexually-suggestive remarks at least occasionally: 19 percent said every day, 43 percent said often, and 28 percent said sometimes. Notably, they were the target of such speech significantly more often than they were of “polite” remarks about their appearance. (3)
5. Beijing: A 2002 survey of 200 citizens in Beijing, China, showed that 70 percent had been subjected to a form of sexual harassment. Most people said it occurred on public transportation, including 58 percent who said it occurred on the bus. (5)
6. Chicago, USA: During the summer of 2003, members of the Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team in Chicago surveyed 168 neighborhood girls and young women (most of whom were African American or Latina) ages 10 to 19 about street harassment and interviewed 34 more in focus groups. They published their findings in a report titled “Hey Cutie, Can I Get Your Digits?” Of their respondents, 86 percent had been catcalled on the street, 36 percent said men harassed them daily, and 60 percent said they felt unsafe walking in their neighborhoods. >(4)
7. Tokyo, Japan: Groping on trains, subways, and transit stations in Tokyo, Japan, is rampant. In a 2004 survey of 632 women who travel during rush-hour in Tokyo, nearly 64 percent of the women in their 20s and 30s said they were groped while commuting. In 2008 in Tokyo alone there were 2,000 reported groping cases (and it is an underreported crime).
8. Pakistan: In a study of more than 200 youth in Gujranwala, Pakistan, 96 percent of the girls experienced street harassment.
9. New York City, USA: In 2007, the Manhattan Borough President’s Office conducted an online questionnaire about sexual harassment on the New York City subway system with a total of 1,790 participants. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents identified as women. Of the respondents, 63 percent reported being sexually harassed and one-tenth had been sexually assaulted on the subway or at a subway station. Due to collection methods used, the report “Hidden in Plain Sight: Sexual Harassment and Assault in the New York City Subway System” is not statistically significant, but it suggests that a large number of women experience problems on the subway system.
10. Egypt: The Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights surveyed 2,000 Egyptian men and women and 109 foreign women in four governorates in the country, including Cairo and Giza, about sexual harassment on Egyptian streets. They published their findings in 2008. Eighty-three percent of Egyptian women reported experiencing sexual harassment on the street at least once and nearly half of the women said they experience it daily. Ninety-eight percent of the foreign women surveyed reported experiencing sexual harassment while in Egypt. Wearing a veil did not appear to lessen a woman’s chances of being harassed. About 62 percent of Egyptian men admitted to perpetrating harassment.
11. Yemen: In Yemen, the Yemen Times conducted a survey on teasing and sexual harassment in Sana’a in 2009. Ninety percent of the 70 interviewees from Sana’a said they had been sexually harassed in public. Seventy-two percent of the women said they were called sexually-charged names while walking on the streets and 20 percent of this group said it happens on a regular basis. About 37 percent of the sample said they had experienced physical harassment. Like those in Egypt, these survey results implied that being veiled did not lessen the harassment, because wearing a veil in public is so common.
12. India: Throughout 2009, the Centre for Equity and Inclusion surveyed 630 women of all ages and socioeconomic status in New Delhi and Old Delhi, India. Ninety-five percent of the women said their mobility was restricted because of fear of male harassment in public places. Another 82 percent said the bus is the most unsafe mode of public transportation for them because of male harassers.
13. Korea: In 2010, a study of 828 salaried employees in an unnamed city in Korea shared their experiences with harassmetn during their commute. Foty-three percent of the people experienced harassmetn and 79 percent of them were women. Around 72 percent of the incidents occurred on subway cars, followed by buses at 27.3 percent and taxis at 1.1 percent. Nearly 60 percent said they experienced harassment between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. when most workers are on their way to work, while 17 percent were between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. while returning home from work. Only 18.2 percent strongly protested against the assailants and 6.3 percent shouted in anger.
14. Tel Aviv, Israel: 83 percent of women in Tel Aviv reported experiencing street harassment in a study conducted by the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality’s committee for advancing the status of women, with help from shelters for survivors of sexual assault and the Shatil organization. According to the survey, the group reporting the highest incidence of harassment included women aged 22-39. The most common forms of harassment are whistling in the street (64% of all respondents reported experiencing this ), cars beeping horns (61% ), knowing looks (45% ), suggestive remarks (40% ), inappropriate proposals (22% ), touching (21% ) and stalking (18% ). Also, 6% of respondents reported that they were victims of sexual abuse.
15. Papau New Guinea: In Port Moresby, a 2011 UN scoping study in six markets (Gerehu, Gordons, Tokarara, Malauro, Waigani and Hohola) found that 55% of women experienced sexual violence in the market spaces the previous year.
16. Ecuador: A UN scoping study in 2011 found that 68% of women experienced some form of sexual harassment and sexual violence in public spaces during the previous year.
17. London, United Kingdom: In a poll conducted by the Ending Violence Against Women (EVAW) Coalition in London, 43 percent of young women ages 18-34 had experienced street harassment just during the past year alone. The total sample size was 1047 adults and the poll was conducted in early March 2012.
18. Poland: Hollaback! Poland conducted an informal online survey of 818 people (mostly women) in 2012. They found that 85% of female respondents had experienced street harassment in public spaces in Poland, as had 44% of men. Read the full results.
19. Croatia: Hollaback! Croatia informally surveyed 500 people (mostly women) online about street harassment in 2012. They found that 99 percent of women experienced some form of street harassment in their lifetime, and 50 percent experienced it by age 18. Read the full results.
20. Turkey: Hollaback Istanbul/Canımız Sokakat conducted an online survey of 141 people (mostly women). They found that 93 percent had been street harassed and 69 percent experience street harassment at least on a monthly basis. Read the full results.
21. New York City: In partnership with Hollaback!, researchers from the Worker Institute at Cornell asked 110 New York City-based social service providers whether or not they receive reports of street harassment, and if so, how they respond to those reports. They found that more than 86 percent of respondents had received reports of street harassment from a client, constituent or consumer.
22. Mumbai, India: We the People Foundation’s 2012 study found that 80% of women in Mumbai had been street harassed, primarily in crowded areas like trains and railway platforms.
23. Rwanda: A baseline study conducted by UN Women in Kigali in 2012 revealed that women’s fear of sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence limited their participation in activities outside the home during the day and at night. 42% of women said they were concerned about going to educational institutions during the day, and 55% after dark. Over half of women said they were concerned about participating in leisure activities during the day and after dark.
24. France: “Researchers from The National Institute of Statistics and Economics Studies found in a 2013 study that 25% of women aged 18-29 reported being scared when they walked on the streets. They also discovered that 1 in 5 women have suffered from verbal harassment on the street in the past year, and 1 in 10 said they had been kissed or caressed against their consent.”
25. Egypt: The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women published a report in 2013 showing that 99.3% of Egyptian women have experienced some form of sexual harassment. The study indicates that “96.5% of women in their survey said that sexual harassment came in the form of touching, which was the most common manifestation of sexual harassment. Verbal sexual harassment had the second-highest rate experienced by women with 95.5% of women reporting cases.”
26. Peru: The Paremos el Acoso Callejero group and Pontifical Catholic University of Peru surveyed 800 women in 2013 and found that nearly 60% of women had experienced street harassment, including more than 80% of those ages 18 – 29 years old.
27. Brazil: In 2013, Think Olga commissioned a survey conducted by journalist Karin Hueck as part of their anti-street harassment campaign Fiu Fiu Enough. There were 7,762 participants for the opt-in survey and 99.6 % of them said they had been harassed.
28. Nepal: The World Bank conducted a 2013 study in Nepal and found that one in three women and one in six men feel unsafe on public transport.
29. Chile: The Organization Against Street Harassment (OCAC) found in its first opt-in study in 2014 that almost 40% of Chilean women are harassed on a daily basis, while 90% of women reported having been harassed at least once in their lives.
30. USA: In 2014, SSH commissioned a 2,000-person national survey in the USA with surveying firm GfK. The survey found that 65% of all women had experienced street harassment. Among all women, 23% had been sexually touched, 20% had been followed, and 9% had been forced to do something sexual. Among men, 25% had been street harassed (a higher percentage of LGBT-identified men than heterosexual men reported this) and their most common form of harassment was homophobic or transphobic slurs (9%). Read more findings.
31. Los Angeles, CA, USA: In 2014, a Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority survey of nearly 20,000 passengers asked whether they felt unsafe during the last month while riding Metro due to “unwanted touching, exposure, comments, or any other form of unwanted sexual behavior. About 21% of rail passengers and 18% of bus passengers said yes. About 17% of bus riders and 13% of train riders said they felt unsafe while waiting at bus stops or train stations.”
32. Global: YouGov conducted the largest study about harassment on public transportation to date in 2014. They polled people in 16 major cities worldwide and then ranked the transit systems from safest (New York City) to least safe (Bogota). As far as experiences of verbal harassment go, the top five worst cities were Mexico City, Delhi, Bogota, Lima, and Jakarta, while the top five worst cities for physical harassment were Mexico City, Bogota, Lima, Tokyo, and Delhi.
33. Bangladesh: The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics and United Nations Population Fund surveyed 12,600 women across the country in 2014 and most said they regularly face sexual harassment in their daily lives. About 43% said public spaces were the spot where they experienced it the most.
34. Saudi Arabia: Nearly 80% of women ages 18 to 48 said they had experienced sexual harassment—including street harassment—in a study reported in Al-Monitor in 2014.
35. Vietnam: In 2014, a survey of 2,046 people in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City found that 31% has been sexually harassed on public buses.
36.USA: A 2014 YouGov poll found that “according to a large majority of the public, it is never appropriate (72%) to catcall. 18% say that it’s sometimes appropriate, while 2% think that it’s always appropriate. Men (22%) were only marginally more likely than women (18%) to say that it is ‘sometimes’ or ‘always’ appropriate. Asked whether catcalls are compliments or not, most Americans (55%) say that they constitution harassment, 24% aren’t sure while only 20% think that they are ‘compliments’. “
37. Serbia: SSH’s Safe Public Spaces Mentoring team in Serbia conducted an opt-in survey of 629 youth and found that 97% had experienced street harassment at least once. 64% of women and 14% of men said they experience harassment on a daily basis.
38. Australia: Research by The Australia Institute in 2015 of 1426 females found that 87% were verbally or physically attacked while walking down the street. 40% of women feel unsafe in their own neighborhoods at night. In addition to verbal harassment, physical street harassment was also a relatively commonplace occurrence, with 65% of women experiencing physically threatening harassment.
40. Chile: The group Observatorio Cotra el Acoso Callejero – OCAC Chile released the results of their second study on street harassment in 2015. “Among the findings of the study, three out of four people have suffered street harassment in Chile in the last 12 months … In the case of women, the percentage reaches 85% and of men, 55%. … Also, two in five people have suffered rubbing, touching or groping in public spaces, and 23% of women have experienced some form of serious harassment (persecution, exhibitionism, public masturbation).”
41. USA: In April 2015, Cornell University and Hollaback! released findings from an opt-in survey conducted through their localized sites in 2014. More than 4,000 women under 40 years old took it. While it is not nationally representative nor does it look at men’s experiences or factors like race or sexual orientation (as SSH’s 2014 GfK study does), it does provide more insight into the impact street harassment has on harassed persons.
42. Nicaragua: SSH’s Safe Public Spaces Mentoring team Observatorio Contra el Acoso Callejero, Nicaragua surveyed 900 women at bus stops in the city of Managua in 2014. They released their results in May 2015.
43. USA: The Los Angeles transit authority found in 2015 that 19% of riders have been harassed in the past year. “Seven percent have been fondled or groped, and 8% have been subject to indecent exposure…passengers younger than 18 reported the highest rate of unwanted touching of any age group.”
44. Kenya: More than 50% of almost 400 women interviewed by Kenyan advocacy group Women’s Empowerment Link (WEL) in Dec. 2015 said they had experienced gender-based violence, defined as physical, sexual or psychological harm, while using public transport. “(Respondents) witnessed female passengers being stripped naked … but the female survivors neither received any help nor reported the violation,” WEL said in a report of the survey. Respondents said insults were the most common form of abuse that women experience while using public transport, followed by being forced to board vehicles against their wishes and indecent touching.”
2. Ross Macmillan, Annette Nierobisz, and Sandy Welsh, “Experiencing the Streets: Harassment and Perceptions of Safety Among Women,” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 37, no. 3 (August 2000), 318.