Original Paper

Sexuality & Culture

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 191-216

First online:

Context Effects on Women’s Perceptions of Stranger Harassment

  • Kimberly FairchildAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Manhattan College Email author 

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The current research suggests that perceptions of stranger harassment experiences (i.e., experiencing unwanted sexual attention in public) are altered by the context of the situation. Study one investigated which elements of the situation (context) might be most influential in increasing fear and enjoyment of the catcalling experience. Attractiveness and age of the perpetrator, time of day, and whether the victim was alone or with friends were some of the categories that were selected as influencing both fear and enjoyment. Study two used a perspective taking methodology to ask women to predict a target character’s emotions, fears, and behaviors in harassment situations that varied by context. Results mirror the sexual harassment literature and suggest that harassment by younger and attractive men is viewed as less harassing. Exploratory analyses were also conducted with women’s personal experiences with stranger harassment as well as gender differences in perceptions. Context plays a vital role in interpretation of stranger harassment.


Stranger harassment Street harassment Sexual harassment Context effects