Victimology of Sexual Harassment on Public Transportation: Evidence from India

Publication Date01 Apr 2020
AuthorMichael L. Valan
03VVJ927303_ncx.indd Article
Victimology of Sexual
Journal of Victimology
and Victim Justice
Harassment on Public
3(1) 24–37, 2020
2020 National Law
University Delhi
Reprints and permissions:
Evidence from India
DOI: 10.1177/2516606920927303
Michael L. Valan1
It is evident from the daily lives of cross sections of the urban society that most
working women choose to opt for public transportation. Regrettably, during the
course of their commute, they are susceptible to verbal, physical, psychological
and financial harassment at the hands of their fellow travellers and bus operators.
Underreporting ensures that cases of this kind do not surface in mainstream
media. In the recent past, to the best of the knowledge of the researcher, very
few studies have been conducted around the world on this subject in general,
and in India in particular. Hence, the present research assumes significance. In this
connection, an attempt has been made to measure the prevalence and nature of
harassment suffered by women using public transportation in Chennai city in vic-
timological perspective. A convenience sample of 530 women riding public trans-
portation was identified and data was collected from them using a self-reported
questionnaire. The findings revealed that around 35 per cent of all young women
have been harassed in one of the forms mentioned above in the last six months.
Further results and implications are discussed in the article.
Harassment, public transportation, women, routine activities theory
Globally, owing to environmental factors, the general populace is largely inclined
in favour of public transportation for transit, with women constituting a sizable
number. In countries like India, well into the twenty-first century, women continue
1 Department of Criminology and Police Administration, DG Vaishnav College, Arumbakkam, Chennai,
Tamil Nadu, India.
Corresponding author:
Michael L. Valan, Department of Criminology and Police Administration, DG Vaishnav College,
Arumbakkam, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600106, India.

Valan 25
to be vulnerable to abuse. According to the latest report of the National Crime
Records Bureau, India, 338,954 cases were registered under the head ‘Crimes
Against Women’ in 2016, around 3 per cent higher than that of the previous year.2
Women can be victimized on the physical and psychological fronts. As stated
earlier, it is plain that most urban working women opt for public transportation to
commute mobility. A fallout is that most are harassed by fellow travellers and bus
operators during their commute, and the harassment can take verbal, physical,
psychological or financial forms. Owing to underreporting, cases of this kind
constitute a dark figure.3 Loukaitou-Sideris4 argues that 60–80 per cent of sexual
abuse cases are not reported to the police because of the fear of subsequent
victimization both by the criminal justice system and society. Mazumder and
Pokharel5 aver that such violence has the potential to negatively impact the life of
women and create an environment that is hostile to their empowerment. At the
outset, according to section 354A of the Indian Penal Code, sexual harassment
is defined as ‘any unwelcome touching or other physical contact; asking or
demanding sex or any other sexual activity; making remarks which are of a sexual
nature; showing pornographic material which may include videos, magazines,
books etc’. Astonishingly, as of date, no separate law has been enacted by the
legislature to deal with harassment on public transportation. As a consequence,
the annual crime statistics present information only on the various forms of
harassment against women, with no details pertaining to where the reported
incidents actually occurred. The 2012 incident involving Nirbhaya, a young
woman, shocked the entire nation. A young girl was gang-raped on a bus in Delhi,
the capital of India, and died subsequently. In the aftermath of the incident, the
Government of India amended the criminal law the same year, followed by further
stringent amendments in 2018. Notwithstanding, no separate, special law has
been enacted to deal with harassment on public transportation. It is believed that
the number of unreported crimes is often higher than that reported. In the West,
national-level Crime Victimization Surveys (CVS) are conducted to determine the
dark figure of crime for better policing. In India, however, no such initiative is in
place. In the era of digitalization, it takes a minimum of two years for the annual
reported crime statistics to be released. Conducting a CVS is a big challenge in the
present scenario. Therefore, undertaking research studies in the respective regions
2 NatioNal Crime reCords Bureau, Crime iN iNdia 2016 133–159 (2016).
3 Datafolha, Termoˆ metro Paulistano: Asse´dio Sexual Contra as Mulheres (12 May 2019, 11 pm), http://; A. Gekoski et al., ‘What Works’ in Reducing Sexual Harassment and Sexual
Offences on Public Transport Nationally and Internationally: A Rapid Evidence Assessment. 28–64
(2015) (10 pm),
M. Madan & M. Nalla, Sexual Harassment in Public Spaces: Examining Gender Differences in
Perceived Seriousness and Victimization, 26 iNt. Crim. J. rev. 80–97 (2016); M. Natarajan, Rapid
Assessment of ‘Eve Teasing’ (Sexual Harassment) of Young Women During the Commute to College in
India, 5(1) Crim. sCi. 1–11 (2016).
4 A. Loukaitou-Sideris, Fear and Safety in Transit Environments from the Women’s Perspective, 27(2)
Sec. J. 242–256 (2014).
5 H. Mazumder & B. Pokharel, Sexual Violence on Public Transportation: A Threat to Women’s
Mobility in Bangladesh, J. agg. mal. tr. 3–5 (2018).

Journal of Victimology and Victim Justice 3(1)
in question helps researchers better understand problems of this kind. In light of
this, an attempt has been made to survey the prevalence of sexual harassment
faced by women on Chennai city’s public transportation system.
A Review of Literature
It is evident from a review of the literature that few studies have dealt with the
sexual harassment of women on public transportation.6 Most studies have focused
only on the sexual harassment of school-going girl children, college-going girl
students, working women, homemakers and children in general.7 As stated, only
a few studies have been conducted in the area of sexual harassment on public
transportation. For instance, in 2011, a study by Jagori,8 an Indian organization
working for the safety of women in public spaces, conducted a baseline survey
with 5,010 men and women in collaboration with UN Women. They found that
school-and college-going girls aged 15–19 were most vulnerable to sexual
harassment in public places, and that two out of three women had reported the
same at least 2–5 times in a year. Further, it was found that only 6.6 per cent of the
women in question sought legal help. The Jagori study serves as a benchmark in
the domain of sexual harassment in public places. This is followed by another
study conducted by Joseph et al.9 who researched women employees (N = 655)
using public transportation in the Indian city of Chennai and found that around 50
per cent reported being sexually harassed while travelling. This was followed by
a study conducted in Bangladesh by ActionAid which found that 84 per cent of
Bangladeshi women had experienced sexual harassment while travelling.10 A
2014 study conducted in Pakistan of women (N = 230) travelling by public
transportation found that around 75 per cent reported being harassed.11 A major
6 J. Korn, ...

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