Reducing Harassment

Bill supported by ILR research now New York City law
Monday, February 8, 2016

For many women living in cities across the globe, the task of heading to and returning from work is marred by an ugly trend that plagues many major public transit systems – street harassment.

In 2012, researchers from ILR and anti-street harassment organization Hollaback! began a partnership to conduct a street harassment research survey in New York City. The study expanded to 42 cities around the world.  

The work supported a New York City bill requiring data targeting sexual harassment on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, responsible for public transportation in New York City, to be updated quarterly online allowing riders to know the statistics, and which trains were safest.

This allows riders to have detailed information to make safety decisions, according to Hollaback!.

The bill’s journey began six years ago when Hollaback! Executive Director Emily May sat down with New York State Assemblyman James Brennan, D-Brooklyn, and asked, "what could New York state do to reduce harassment?"

One of the problems concerning them both was the lack of reports for sexual violence on the subway. According to Hollaback!, data was difficult to find, and this put riders at further risk because they did not have the information they needed to advocate for safer subways. Brennan went on to sponsor the bill.

ILR Assistant Professor Beth Livingston directed the research that laid the supporting data for the bill.  She was assisted by KC Wagner, Worker Institute director of Workplace Issues, Angela Lu ’13, Maria Grillo MILR ’15 and Rebecca Paluch M.S./Ph.D. ’18.

The study’s purpose focused on better understanding how street harassment is experienced and the factors that influence short- and long-term outcomes for those targeted, and on building a theoretical model of how street harassment is experienced, in hope that the model can be used to contribute to theory and future research.

“We built on our original study (PDF, 1 MB) of a random selection of 223 NYC stories uploaded to Hollaback’s online app by creating an expanded survey delivered to multiple countries. This kind of consistency is a complicated undertaking, but it provides an amazing opportunity to begin to understand street harassment cross-culturally,” Livingston said.

“We developed the survey to cover a cross section of this issue to better understand its impact on victims, asking respondents about age at the first experience of harassment, type of harassment experienced, behavioral changes as a result of harassment and emotional effects of harassment,” she said.

The international survey was conducted between October and December 2014. It was translated into English, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Bosnian, Croatian, Hindi, Polish, Nepali, Marathi and German.

KC Wagner also played a role in developing the partnership with Hollaback! as part of the Worker Institute’s Equity at Work Initiative, which examines how the workplace is impacted by the evolving and changing norms of the social construction of gender roles, identity and expression.

“We collaborated with resident and extension faculty and pulled students into our research so that the applied experience of it really looks at different ways that we bring partners to the table,” Wagner said. “Then, our partners run with the collaboration in ways that really make a difference for the citizens of New York, tying into the school’s land-grant mission.”

“We’re looking at all the ways we can add to social science research and add to social discourse on an important issue that has a very significant bottom line for our society at large,” she said.

The law requires the New York Police Department to submit an annual report to the New York City Council detailing subway crimes such as aggravated sexual abuse, sexual misconduct and rape. Data aimed at sexual harassment on New York City’s public transit will be updated quarterly online.

For news on the bill and initiative, visit www.ihollaback.org/cornell-international-survey-on-street-harassment/.