Survey shows women in Delhi do not feel safe in public

About 40 percent of women surveyed in Delhi said they have been sexually harassed in a public place such as a bus or park in the past year, with most of the crimes occurring in the daytime. (Credit: iStockphoto)

Despite tougher laws enacted in India after a woman was gang raped on a bus in 2012 and later died of her injuries, many women in New Delhi do not feel safe in public places.

About 40 percent of women surveyed in Delhi said they have been sexually harassed in a public place such as a bus or park in the past year, with most of the crimes occurring in the daytime. Further, 33 percent of women have stopped going out in public and 17 percent have quit their jobs rather than face harassment, or worse, in public places.

“What this means is that women, despite Nirbhaya, are still afraid,” says Mahesh Nalla, professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University.

Nirbhaya became the pseudonym given to the gang rape victim whose death in 2012 brought worldwide attention to violence against women. “Women in India do not feel safe being in public spaces, which is clearly a human rights issue.”

[Report: India fails to protect women from sexual harassment]

While sexual harassment is a problem experienced by women worldwide, it may be more prevalent in emerging democracies such as India and other countries in South Asia where women are becoming more involved in the workforce, Nalla says.

The problem is intensified by the existence of a cramped, inadequate public transportation system, massive youth migration to urban areas, and the fact that India is a traditional patriarchal society where many still believe a woman’s place is in the home.

For the study, researchers surveyed about 1,400 men and women in the capital city of New Delhi on several issues, including perceptions and history of sexual harassment, use of public transportation, safety in public spaces, and police effectiveness in dealing with these concerns.

The findings, published in the International Criminal Justice Review, finds that 40 percent of female respondents were sexually harassed in the past year and 58 percent were sexually harassed at least once during their lifetime.

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Respondents were asked to gauge the seriousness of sexual incidents, including whistling, asking for sexual favors, and groping and inappropriate touching. While both men and women generally considered all incidents serious, men considered them less serious, illustrating “a disjunction between how males and females think,” Nalla says.

Sexual harassment of women in public spaces in India and elsewhere in South Asia—known as “Eve teasing”—has long been a common occurrence, particularly by groups of young male perpetrators, Nalla says. The Dec. 16, 2012 rape and murder of Nirbhaya by a group of men on a moving bus in Delhi brought about new laws that doubled prison terms for rape and criminalized voyeurism and stalking.

“The findings from this study,” highlight the importance and immediacy of addressing women’s safety in public spaces and women’s human rights,” says Nalla, who offers several recommendations for addressing the issue:

  • Better education on the consequences of sexual harassment and the principles of gender equality, starting in grade school written into curriculums.
  • Implementation of public-awareness efforts, including public-service messages and the display of “zero tolerance on sexual harassment” signs at highly visible areas such as bus stops, buses and roadsides.
  • More and better law enforcement and security in public places, including beefed-up police patrols and the installation of security cameras.

Source: Michigan State University