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Sexual Harassment and Assault in Public Spaces: Individual Vulnerability and Contextual Risk Factors

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Prior research has demonstrated that sexual harassment in public spaces is common; however, little is known about the contexts or types of harassment that occur in different public venues. Understanding the contexts of sexual harassment could inform tailored interventions for different public venue types. This study evaluated the prevalence, vulnerability to, and contexts of sexual harassment in public venues. Participants (N = 1,024) of all ages (18–90) from across the United States were recruited through TurkPrime/CloudResearch panels and completed an online questionnaire about experiences of unwanted sexual attention and sexual harassment/assault in nine types of public venues (including nightlife venues, public and private transportation services, sporting events, and conventions) over the past five years. We assessed individual (e.g., gender, sexual identity) and contextual (e.g., level of venue crowding, role of alcohol/drugs) factors in relation to sexual harassment in public. A total of 41.5% of participants reported an experience of unwanted sexual attention in the past five years, with cisgender women and transgender/nonbinary/gender expansive individuals reporting higher rates than cisgender men. A total of 25.8% of participants reported sexual harassment/assault in public spaces, and there were no gender differences. Respondents who were younger, LGBQ+, and lived in metropolitan areas were more likely than older, heterosexual, and those in non-metropolitan areas, respectively, to experience unwanted attention and harassment/assault. The contexts for the sexual harassment/assault differed across venue types, highlighting the need for prevention interventions that are targeted to specific types of public spaces.

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Correspondence to Zoë D. Peterson.

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Peterson, Z.D., Carver, D.N., Klann, E.M. et al. Sexual Harassment and Assault in Public Spaces: Individual Vulnerability and Contextual Risk Factors. Sex Roles 89, 685–701 (2023).

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