A new study examining the gendered nature of urban design, published by Leading Cities, found that the risk of sexual assault disproportionately prevents women from walking around their cities.
According to the study, 30% of women respondents said they either “always” or “very frequently” avoid walking around their cities because of fear, instead choosing other modes of transportation. By contrast, 70% of men said they “never” or “very rarely” avoid walking in their cities because of fear. Nearly 70% of women said that the predominant cause of their fear was sexual assault, while no men listed sexual assault as their biggest fear.
An analysis by StreetsBlog reports that one of the study’s co-authors, Columbia University researcher Shagun Sethi, said that the paper seeks to quantify the all-encompassing reality of fears of sexual violence, and to highlight how largely male-designed urban environments fail to address this fear. In comments to StreetsBlog, Sethi said, “…The problem is that we tend to see crime a matter of statistics and crime rates. An assault happens after dark in a certain neighborhood, they put up streetlights in the area, and then they say, ‘It’s safe now.’ But safety is a state of mind. The fact that more than half of our population is not feeling safe when they’re on the street is reason alone to enhance our safety measures.”
As the study indicates (and StreetsBlog argues), the fear of violence can impede urban mobility for women just as much as violence itself. Crime prevention policies that fail to account for the feeling of safety—”for instance, by cultivating inviting, walkable neighborhoods with lots of other pedestrians around,” as StreetsBlog puts it—adversely impact the mobility of women in their communities.
The study finds that women would feel safer with design elements like “active street fronts” and wider sidewalks, which StreetsBlog notes are features that street safety advocates of other genders want as well. Without them, however, “people from all identity groups tend to adopt similar coping strategies to protect themselves, like walking home before sunset, or recruiting a friend to accompany them home.” And it’s women who tend to take these measures more often than men.