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Rapid assessment of “eve teasing” (sexual harassment) of young women during the commute to college In India


Many countries have taken action in recent times to address harassment in the work place and violence in the home, but little attention has been paid to sexual harassment in public places, specifically during women’s journey to work and school. In developing countries, many more women are seeking education and employment than previously, which has increased the opportunity for sexual harassment in public places. In India, the study location, this harassment is known as “eve teasing”. Eve teasing includes cat calling, lewd remarks, and inappropriate sexual contact such as rubbing and fondling. Tolerance of such incidents could lead to more severe forms of abuse and encourage more individuals to participate. Necessary as laws are, they cannot bring about immediate changes in widespread public behaviors, particularly those, such as eve teasing, that are deeply rooted in the culture of a country. To date there is no systematic research on sexual harassment in public places to assist public authorities and town planners with the development of security measures, especially for college-going women in cities and towns in India. Rapid assessment methodology has been used increasingly, especially in the field of public health, to assist decision-making about appropriate interventions for social problems by examining issues within social and cultural contexts in space and time. This paper provides a case study of rapid assessment of so-called “eve teasing” of female college students in Chennai, India. Three methods were employed in this rapid assessment of the problem— focus group discussions with college students, interviews with police officers from stations nearby the campuses and safety audits of the campus surroundings. This small exploratory study of eve teasing in India succeeded in promoting understanding of the problem and in providing many suggestions for reducing it. These latter included an extensive inventory of precautions for students, particularly female students to take in order to protect themselves from eve teasing, and a list of preventive suggestions for other stakeholders—the police, local municipalities, transport agencies and the colleges themselves. The study has wider implications for the study of routine precautions, for crime in public space and for the use of rapid assessment techniques in Crime Science.


A declared objective of Crime Science, which distinguishes it from most other criminology, is to bring about reductions in crime. This objective is normally expected to result from a rigorous analysis of a specific crime or disorder problem that identifies deterrent or other opportunity-reducing measures. Many such analyses have been undertaken and published, but they are costly in terms of scarce research resources and they can take a long time to complete. This approach has limited applicability therefore in developing countries that generally lack the research capacity required. This problem is not unique to crime science, but also plagues the field of public health, which has responded by developing “rapid assessment” methodologies (RAM) used for rapid environmental appraisal (Oliver and Beattie 1996; Trotter et al. 2001, Fitch et al. 2004; Comiskey O’Sullivan and Milnes 2012). While RAM may fall short of the usual rigor of a scientific assessment, this approach can still produce sufficiently reliable information about specific problems to permit preventive actions to be identified and implemented. In the public health field, it is seen as striking a balance between methodologically appropriate and logistically feasible measures (MacIntyre 1999). In particular, it is considered to be valuable in developing realistic, time-bound interventions, prioritizing the most affected parts of a city or region, identifying high-risk populations, places, or sectors that need attention, and developing targeted interventions to bring the most benefit.

According to Beebe (2001), RAM is the lens of the local voice, what ethnographers frequently label the “emic” viewpoint. This is crucial to the research process in evaluative studies, but is all too often ignored. However, it is now used increasingly to assist decision-making about appropriate interventions for social problems by examining issues within social and cultural contexts in space and time (Needle et al. 2008; McDonald 2005; Stimson 2001). For example, RAM was used to study user–dealer populations in a Colombia, to explore patterns of drug use and associated behaviors of overdose, crime, violence, and the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (Ross 2002). In a further example, RAM was used in Pretoria, South Africa, to understand drug use and associated health and systemic risks, such as unprotected sex, violence, rape and tattooing with contaminated equipment (dos Santos et al. 2014). The ultimate purpose was to facilitate the long-term planning of drug-use prevention and the development of appropriate intervention and rehabilitation programs in correctional institutions.

While scholarly rigor is important for criminology and Crime Science in developing and testing theories to guide scientific research, Clarke (2004) has argued that the same urgent pressures to produce relevant information for preventive purposes exists in these fields as much as in public health:

“In the fast moving world of the future it is likely that criminology will have to sacrifice some scholarly rigour in favour of timeliness and relevance. Techniques of ‘rapid appraisal’ (Beebe 1995) will need to be employed far more frequently than now, and reports will have to be produced with commensurate speed. If this means that they focus more on results and implications than the details of methodology, so much the better” (page 60).

Eve teasing or sexual harassment of women in public places

This paper undertakes a rapid assessment of so-called “eve teasing” of female college students in Chennai, India Footnote 1. While the term is used widely in India and in South Asian countries, “eve teasing” trivializes sexual harassment of women in public, including cat calling, lewd remarks, and inappropriate sexual contact such as rubbing and fondling. This conduct demeans young women and girls and can harm them psychologically, physically and socially. It merges at the more serious end into severe assaults, rape and even murderFootnote 2. The problem was projected onto the world stage with the horrifying abduction and rape on Dec 16, 2012 of a 23-year-old female medical student, who took a private bus in front of a mall in New Delhi around 9 p.m. After watching a movie with a friend. She was gang raped on the moving bus and died after 10 days of suffering from severe injuries of her genitals and intestines. The case led to widespread outrage in India and resulted in new federal legislation designed to punish these cases.

Necessary as laws are, they cannot bring about immediate changes in a public behavior as widespread as eve teasing, which is deeply rooted in the culture of a country and deeply engrained in local public and the criminal justice system (the law and the police). The street harassment of young women is compounded by lingering gender inequality in India. It is true that young women are venturing forth outside their homes in ever increasing numbers to obtain education or work, but girls and boys are still socialized under different gender role expectations. Women are raised to be submissive and sons are likely to be given priority over daughters in economic and social arrangements, including work and marriage. Many parents still blame their daughters for their sexual victimization, which they believe will reduce her marriage prospects. Consequently, many victims do not talk about the physical and mental abuse that they endure outside their homes.

In view of the slow pace of cultural change, measures to deal with eve teasing should be put in place to reduce the opportunities for these crimes to occur. This will involve educating young women about the precautions they can take to reduce their risks of becoming victims as well as identifying measures that might be taken by the police, by local municipalities, by public transport and by college administrators to reduce the opportunities for sexual harassment of young women on the commute to college. Identifying such measures will require a fuller understanding of these forms of sexual harassment, which research has yet to provide. As one step to providing this understanding this paper reports a rapid assessment of the problem.

The statistics of sexual harassment in India

The Indian Government collates crime reports from the various States in an annual report Crime in India. Unfortunately, the data on “eve teasing” in these reports is difficult to interpret, partly because successive (confusing) changes have been made in the Indian Penal Code under which eve teasing or sexual harassment in public places is recorded Footnote 3. Some of these changes have resulted from the Government’s attempts to respond to the public outrage expressed about the extreme forms of sexual harassment in public. Whatever the reasons, Table 1, drawn from Crime in India, illustrates the difficulty of drawing any conclusions about the scale of the problem. It shows the incidents reported of sexual harassment/eve teasing for India as whole, for the State of Tamil Nadu and for Chennai City from 1991 to 2014. Much of the data is missing, but a larger problem is that totals show little consistency from year to year, whereas crime data usually change slowly over much longer periods of time. In fact, the inadequacies of the official statistics on sexual harassment in public places helps to make the case for undertaking a rapid assessment of the problem.

Table 1 Sexual harassment incidentsa in India, Tamil Nadu and Chennai, 1991–2014

As stated earlier, a number of earlier federal and state laws had already been passed intended to protect women from harassment in public, and the problem of harassment of women had been the subject of an unusually large study undertaken by Jagori, a feminist organization, with support from the Government of India and U.N. Women’s organizations (Jagori and U.N. Women 2010). A sample of 3816 women and 944 men were interviewed. The study revealed widespread harassment endured by Indian women in public and semi-public settings with school and college students in the 15–19 age-groups being particularly vulnerable. Women try to ensure their own safety by avoiding certain places, staying indoors after dark, dressing carefully, and carrying defensive weapons such as pepper spray and safety pins. A high percentage of women (nearly 70 %) resist harassment and deal with it in different ways, including confronting the perpetrator, seeking help from family and friends and calling on bystanders for assistance. The study recommended policies related to urban planning and design of public spaces, policing of public transport, victim support, raising public awareness of the problem and toughened laws.

The present study

Using Rapid Assessment Methodology, the present study aimed to provide insight into the nature and patterns of eve teasing and to identify and describe the characteristics of eve teasing hot spots. The ultimate objective was to identify (1) routine precautions that women students might take to protect themselves from victimization during the commute to and from college and (2) improved security that stakeholders, such as municipalities, transport authorities, the police and college administrators might implement to lessen the risks of eve teasing. The situational measures explored fall loosely under Felson and Clarke’s (2010) description of “routine precautions” which they define as follows:

“Every day, we all do such things as lock our doors, secure our valuables, counsel our children, and guard our purses and wallets to reduce the risk of crime. To this end, we also buy houses in safe neighborhoods, invest in burglar alarms and firearms, and avoid dangerous places and people. Similarly, schools, factories, offices, shops, and many other organizations and agencies routinely take a host of precautions to safeguard themselves, their employees, and their clients from crime.” (p. 107).


Three methods were employed in this rapid assessment of the problem of “eve teasing” in Chennai: (1) focus group discussions with students, (2) interviews with police officers from stations near the campuses and (3) safety audits undertaken of the campus surrounds.

The focus group discussions

In terms of the preventive suggestions yielded, the most important of the three rapid assessment methods were the focus group discussions. These were undertaken with 140 undergraduate male (35) and female (110) students aged 19–21 years from six local autonomous colleges (3 all-women and 3 co-ed) in and around Chennai, which teach arts and science. Focus groups have high face validity and serve: (1) to obtain insight into a new area of research, (2) to investigate topics where opinions or attitudes are conditional, (3) to gather additional information to prepare for a larger scale study and (4) to bridge research and policy (Stewart and Shamdasani 1990; Krueger 1994; Barbour and Kitzinger 1999; Marshall and Rossman 1999).

The focus group discussions were facilitated by The International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC), an NGO based in Chennai. PCVC identified the colleges to be included in the study and arranged a meeting between the author and administrators from each college to discuss the study. The administrators not only approved the research, but also designated a faculty member from each college to help arrange the study in their campuses. Without such cooperation it would have been impossible to hold these focus groups. These were originally planned to consist of 10 students from each college, but the college administrators suggested there should be at least 30 students in the focus group. This was partly because of the importance of the problem, but also to familiarize students with research methodologies used in studying problems such as eve teasing. Only volunteers who gave verbal consent to take part in the focus groups were included. The names of the participants and their colleges were not recorded to ensure anonymity.

The discussion at each college took an average of 2 h. It was facilitated by the author in both English and Tamil (the local language). She began by talking about the importance of dealing with sexual harassment in public places before proceeding with the questions for the focus group. The level of participation was high. Even those, especially women students, who did not participate in the beginning made their points at the end. As a further step to encourage open discussion, the discussions were not tape-recorded.Footnote 4 Instead, two research assistants supplied by PCVC took notes during the discussion in a format that facilitated data analysis. When the focus group discussion was over, the author met with the two research assistants to ensure that the record of the discussion was complete and accurate.

Interviews with police officers

The second rapid assessment method used in this study consisted of interviews with 30 men and women officers from six police stations near the study colleges to learn about their perspectives on police efforts to deal with eve teasing. Permission was obtained from the Chennai Police Commissioner to undertake these interviews on the condition that neither the officers nor the stations were identified in the report. The author was allowed to spend time in each station where she interviewed whichever officers were present, in small groups of four to six. Those interviewed comprised inspectors, senior constables and constables. These group interviews were more formal than the focus group discussion with students. A semi-structured questionnaire guided the interviews to provide a detailed account of (1) The challenges in enforcing the sexual harassment laws (including the arrest of perpetrators), (2) Measures routinely taken to prevent eve teasing near college campuses and (3) Measures that ought to be taken. The interviews took an hour and half in each station and a research assistant recorded the answers.

Safety audits of the areas surrounding the campus

The third rapid assessment method employed in the study consisted of safety audits that were conducted of the campus and its immediate surroundings to identify hot spots of eve teasing and associated spatial features conducive to sexual harassment. As described by the Women’s Action Centre Against Violence Ottawa-Carleton (1995, p. 1), women’s safety audits “bring individuals together to walk through a physical environment, evaluate how safe it feels to them, identify ways to make the space safer and organize to bring about these changes.” Safety audits treat the users of the space as the experts about that space (METRAC 1991). Their ultimate goal is to improve the physical environment in ways that reduce the opportunities for crime and disorder including sexual harassment or sexual assaults (Butler-Kisber 1992). When a space is made safe for the most vulnerable of users (generally girls and women), it in turn becomes safe for all users. They are especially useful in identifying unsafe places because traditional risk calculations tend to be based on reported crimes, which undercount sexual offenses (TTC et al. 1989) as well as many minor crimes and anti-social behaviors (Smith and Cornish 2006; Smith 2008).

Safety audits of the area immediately surrounding the campus, including train stations and bus stops used by students, were undertaken for each college. These were undertaken by the author together with the two PCVC research associates and the PCVC student intern. It would have been preferable to have involved students from each college in undertaking the audits because it is they who are familiar with their surroundings, but this was precluded by the difficulties of gaining permission to involve them and to train them in procedures. The audits were guided by a straightforward protocol with 9 items that included overall impressions of the campus surroundings, adequacy of lighting, sightlines, isolation from being seen or heard, nearby land uses; public transport stops, design of bus shelters, maintenance of the areas observed and suggested improvements.


Nature of eve teasing (sexual harassment)

The findings of the study are summarized below for each of the three rapid assessment methods employed. Given the informality of the methods a detailed presentation of findings would not be appropriate.

Summary of the focus group discussions

Using Poyner’s (1986) method of crime analysis which serves to break up a larger problem into its constituent parts, the focus group protocol explored the following 5 “W” and one “H” questions: what, where, when, who, why and how. These questions generated the themes for describing the nature of eve teasing. The brief examples provided of answers are supplemented in Table 2 by fuller statements made by individual students.

Table 2 Examples of eve teasing incidents provided in the focus group discussions

What do students understand by “eve teasing” and how is it committed? This includes a description of incidents that they have experienced as victims, have heard about or have personally come across. The following constitutes a summary of the recurring themes coded actions involved:

“Sexual staring”, “Making derogatory remarks about women”, “Making fun of darker-colored women”, “Using vulgar language and making crude remarks”, “Loudly rating girls’ looks’, “Following home and blowing kisses”,“Indecent proposals”,”Pulling hands, scarves and saris”, “Bottom pinching”, “Touching hips and breasts of women”, “Stalking”, “Indecent exposure”, “Openly masturbating in the bus”.

Where does eve teasing occur? Sometimes the sequence of events takes place in several locations dependent on the mobility of victims. Victims are usually alone, but eve teasing sometimes occurs when victims are in a group of women and often during the commute to work or school or recreation places. The following is a list of places repeatedly mentioned by the focus group participants:

“In streets and parks”, “Bus stands, railway stations”, “Coffee shops and internet cafés”. “In movie theaters” “Near call centers (business offices that handle telephone communication with their customers)” “On beaches” “At celebrations and festivals” “Near college campuses” “Construction sites”, “Deserted areas” “Temples”,“Shopping malls”, “Market places”.

When does eve teasing occur?

“Almost at any time when a girl walks on her own”, “Especially during rush hours in the evening time (5–9 pm)”, “When riding bikes and motor bikes”.

Who are the perpetrators? Individuals or groups, age groups etc.

“Uneducated and jobless individuals”, “Sometimes police and soldiers”. “Physical contacts mostly by middle aged or older men”, “Teasing mostly by college studentsFootnote 5 and school boys”, “bus drivers and conductors”.

Why does eve teasing occur? Respondent’s views of the reasons for the occurrence of eve teasing can be grouped under “root causes” and “situational causes” as below.

Some root causes:

“Human sexuality”, “Age”, “Pathological conditions (sex deprivation)”, “Gender discrimination including male domination”, “Status of women”, “Socialization of girls and boys”, “Thrill or sensation seeking by groups/individuals”, “Cultural values and clashes (traditional vs modern)”, “Media influences”.

Some situational causes:

“More women seeking education and employment leads to more opportunities for victimization”, “Lack of bystander intervention”, “Boredom”, “Facilitated by technology—cell phone cameras, e-mail etc.”, “Increased sale and use of alcohol in public places”.

Summary of interviews with police officers

According to the police officers interviewed, many of the young women subjected to harassment are afraid of reporting to their families, to the police or to college authorities. In many cases, it is not the victims who report the incident, but parents or spouses who lodge complaints. Even when complaints are lodged,Footnote 6 these are often withdrawnFootnote 7 within a few days because of fear of retaliation from the perpetrators or because parents believe their daughter’s marriage prospects might be harmed by a complaint. The police were very frustrated by these withdrawals and they argued that victims should be encouraged to report at least unofficially to the police so that they can apprehend the perpetrators and take preventive measures in the hotspots.

Police measures to deal with the sexual harassment of college students included allocating more officers during college hours to patrol outside the campuses and a minimum of two women officers near the entrances to women colleges. To apprehend perpetrators on the spot, police deployed undercover women constables to pose as college students near bus stops and stations. The police said they could only undertake surveillance outside the campuses. They could do little about harassment within the co-ed colleges or while students commute to and from college. They suggested that transport police officers should do more to deter and detect harassment by stepping up their patrols of trains and buses.

The police also thought that they need training that takes account of changing patterns of sexual harassment. For example, there is presently an increase in reports of harassment made using mobile phones. Perpetrators stalk particular victims for prolonged periods and, without their knowledge, take photos of them if they are showing too much cleavage or exposing other parts of their bodies. They then send the photos to the girl’s parents or, in some cases, to prospective marriage partners.

Summary of safety audit observations

All the colleges are sited on busy main roads where the sidewalks are often very crowded, especially around the bus stops. Public telephone booths for summoning help in an emergency are few and far between. At night, lighting is generally poor, especially in the narrow side streets, which tend to be unpaved and blocked by auto-rickshaws waiting for a fare. These unsafe conditions are exacerbated by the absence of police patrols. Copious graffiti and litter near the bus stops and around the shops increases the perception that nobody is taking care of the areas surrounding the campuses and nobody will assist if called upon to help.

Some of the colleges are too small to provide cafeterias. So students tend to visit cafes and coffee shops off-campus during their breaks. Because these facilities cater to the public at large this exposes women students to an increased risk of sexual harassment. The measures based on the safety audit observations are included in Table 3.

The findings of these rudimentary safety audits underline the need for routine observation of the immediate surrounds of college campuses in order to enhance security for students. The college management focuses on campus security, but off-campus security measures designed to make the commute safer for students are also important. Safety audits involving student participation should be undertaken on a regular basis.

Prevention of eve teasing

As explained, the ultimate objective of this rapid assessment of eve teasing during the commute to and from college was (1) to enumerate measures, routine precautions, that should be taken by young women to reduce the probability of being victimized and (2) to identify measures that might be taken by other stakeholders—the city municipality, transport authorities, the police and college administrators—to lessen the risks of eve teasing. Concerning the question of how to prevent or reduce eve teasing, the rapid assessment produced two sets of measures described below under the headings of “Routine precautions for young women” and “Security recommendations for stakeholders”.

Routine precautions for young women

Three groups of precautions are listed below under the headings of “Routine precautions to avoid eve –teasing”, “What to if you are a victim of Eve teasing” and “How you might help other victims”.

Routine precautions to avoid eve teasing

  1. 1.

    Whenever possible, avoid travelling alone.

  2. 2.

    Avoid very crowded buses.

  3. 3.

    Avoid walking alone in dark alleys.

  4. 4.

    Avoid motor bikes by walking on the sidewalks.

  5. 5.

    When walking alone, make sure to cross the street to avoid groups of men.

  6. 6.

    Travel in the college bus or ladies special.

  7. 7.

    Carry a whistle to attract help.

  8. 8.

    Be aware of what is going on around you.

  9. 9.

    Do not allow your dupatta (scarf) or sari to float.

  10. 10.

    Do not talk to strangers when alone.

  11. 11.

    Do not accept lifts from strangers.

  12. 12.

    Do not wait alone in bus stands or train stations.

  13. 13.

    Do not share an auto rickshaw if there are no other women passengers.

  14. 14.

    Dress modestly when you use public transportation.

  15. 15.

    Program 1011 (the police hotline) into your cell phone.

  16. 16.

    Keep change for telephone.

  17. 17.

    Pretend to call police.

  18. 18.

    Learn self-defense.

  19. 19.

    Scream at the perpetrator to remove his hands.

  20. 20.

    If teased by a group of men when alone, pretend you heard nothing.

What to do if you are a victim of eve teasing

  1. 1.

    Seek help from someone at the scene: Do not keep quiet.

  2. 2.

    If you are repeatedly harassed, report the incidents to the police or talk to friends and college teachers.

  3. 3.

    If you are fearful about going to your family or police, get help from women’s organizations.

  4. 4.

    If you feel depressed or scared seek help from a college counselor.

How you can help other victims of eve teasing

According to Latane and Darley(1970) and Burn (2009) there are five barriers to intervening when nearby people are subject to sexual assault: failure to notice; failure to identify the situation as high risk, failure to take responsibility for intervening, failure to intervene due to a skills deficit, and failure to intervene due to audience inhibition. Some ways to intervene suggested by study participants are listed below:

  1. 1.

    If you see a school girl or a young woman being harassed in the buses or train stations, do not keep quite. Scream at the perpetrators and embarrass them.

  2. 2.

    Listen to your friends if they talk to you about their experience of harassment.

  3. 3.

    Encourage victims to report to police.

  4. 4.

    Assist victims in finding counseling help.

Security recommendations for stakeholders

Based on the information gathered from students, police officers and the safety audit observation of environment surrounding the college campuses, this study identified numerous situational crime prevention (SCP) measures, involving managerial and environmental change, which could reduce the opportunity for eve teasing. SCP is a broad approach that encompasses defensible space and crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) (both of which focus on the design of the built environment) and problem-oriented policing (Clarke 1997). Using these kinds of measures can reduce everyday problems by addressing the “opportunity structures” that provide their proximal causes (Ekblom 2011).

Measures employed by SCP fall under five broad headings (1) Increasing the Effort; (2) Increasing the Risks; (3) Reducing the Rewards; (4) Reducing Provocations; and (5) Removing Excuses (Cornish and Clarke 2003): Using these headings, six coders independently coded the recommendations that emerged from this study for police, municipal authorities, transport agencies and college administration. There was considerable agreement among the coders (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.91). Table 3 shows the resultant recommendations. It also shows that the measures identified comprised mostly ones that would increase the risks of or remove the excuses for eve teasing.

Table 3 Eve teasing: recommended situational prevention measures for police, college and transport authorities and the city municipality

Implementation of SCP measures

In a small study such as this, supported only by small internal grants, limited resources were available to meet the crime reduction objectives of crime science. Compounding the lack of resources was the status of the author as a private citizen, working in a foreign country, who was dependent on the cooperation of local police and universities. The partnership with the PCVC did lend some additional weight to the study, and helped the researcher to gain access for the research, but there was never any commitment on the part of those granting access to implement the findings. Even so, the study was still thought to be worth undertaking. It would bring greater public attention to the problem of eve teasing, it would expand knowledge about the problem and it would likely provide suggestions for dealing with it.

Despite these limited expectations, some concrete actions were taken to promote implementation. First, the author met with the Chennai Police Commissioner to bring attention to eve teasing, to familiarize him with the findings of the study and to encourage the police to take action on the recommendations that the study identified. Second, the author partnered with PCVC to produce a flyer with safety tips which they distributed on the campuses of the six study colleges and also to other colleges. In total, twelve thousand flyers (2000 per college) were distributed during 2 weeks on either side of November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Third, as a result of the study, PCVC has recently secured a grant from the US Consulate in Chennai to use problem-oriented policing concepts to study sexual harassment of college students in colleges in Tamil Nadu and one other Indian State.


Many countries have recently taken action to address harassment in the work place and violence in the home, but little attention has been paid to sexual harassment in public places, specifically during women’s journey to work and school. Reliable information about this form of victimization is needed if effective preventive measures are to be developed. Based on human ecological theory, the routine activity theory (Cohen and Felson 1979) posits that changing social structure produces the convergence in space and time of likely offenders, suitable targets and the absence of capable guardians, hence allowing illegal activities to feed upon the legal activities of everyday life. Many more women are now spending time outside their homes in work, schools and colleges, and other outdoor activities. Their increased contact with men in the absence of capable guardians would be expected to produce more such crime opportunities in public places. Tolerance of such incidents could lead to more severe forms of abuse and encourage more offenders to participate.

This small study of eve teasing in India has served to promote more understanding of the problem as well as providing many suggestions for reducing it. These latter included an extensive inventory of precautions for students, particularly female students to take in order to protect themselves from eve teasing, and a list of preventive suggestions for other stakeholders—the police, local municipalities, transport agencies and the colleges themselves. But the study has wider implications for the study of routine precautions, for crime and public transport and for the use of rapid assessment techniques in Crime Science. These implications are discussed below.

Routine precautions

This study makes a rare contribution to the study of the routine precautions taken by individuals and all manner of private and public agencies to protect them from crime (see Table 3). Despite their ubiquity, they have rarely been systematically studied (Felson and Clarke 2010). No accepted classification of such precautions has been developed, and few lists as detailed as those presented in the current study of eve teasing have been published. Since routine precautions could materially contribute to preventing many specific offenses, and could help to meet the practical goals of Crime science, this is a particular problem for the discipline. Little is known about the costs for society of taking these precautions or, indeed, of their effectiveness since evaluation of these measures is almost completely lacking. Some might be a complete waste of time, though most are probably well-supported by crime opportunity theory. This is a large topic that cannot be pursued here, beyond noting that many security practices, a subset of routine precautions, are the stock in trade of most public and private enterprises. Since these security practices might contribute materially to society’s crime control objectives, they ought to be evaluated by government-funded studies.

Crime and public transport

Many of the eve teasing “hot spots” described by the students in this study took place on the buses and bus stops. The study therefore makes a valuable contribution to the literature on crime and public transport, which at present is almost exclusively concerned with public transport in developed countries [see the contribution by Natarajan et al. (2015) this volume, on crime and public transport in El Salvador]. Public transport in the cities of less developed countries, such as India, is mostly provided by buses, which are privately run. It is nearly always underfunded and is basic if not primitive. It experiences the full range of crimes including personal and property crimes on bus systems everywhere, even if these crimes take different forms (for example in India gold chain snatching) depending on the local social and cultural context. Thus harassment of women occurs in the buses and subways of Western cities, especially when conditions are crowded. However, it does not take the pervasive form of eve teasing experienced in India and certain other developing countries. It would take a cultural anthropologist to explain the reasons for this (see Heidi 2010), but in India, a major part of the explanation must include the emerging emancipation of women who now travel in public to work or college. This affords men, often young men, the novel experience of interacting with women whom they do not know and thus the temptation to harass them. A particularly unfortunate consequence of this harassment, even if much of it is relatively minor, is that it contributes to the confinement of many young women whose parents fear that they will be victimized if they go into the public realm alone. This concern would be unusual among parents in developed countries and it calls attention to the particular need for more work on criminal victimization of women who travel on buses in developing countries.

Rapid assessment

This initial foray into using rapid assessment methodologies, developed primarily in the field of public health, provides one potential solution to the twin problems of Crime science caused by the combination of its practical objectives and its focus on highly specific problems. At this early stage in the development of Crime science, there are simply too few trained crime scientists to address the myriad of crime problems that exist, especially if at the same time they try to meet their usual standards of research rigor. Making use of simple rapid assessment methodologies, this study quickly obtained sufficient understanding of eve teasing to suggest many possible preventive suggestions and there is little reason to doubt it could do the same for many other specific crime problems. However, as explained, the resources available to the study allowed little to be accomplished in terms of the crucial implementation stage. Clearly, much more experimentation with RAM, preferably using other kinds of research techniques that those used in this study, is needed before concluding that it is as valuable as it has proved to be in the field of public health.


  1. Chennai (formerly Madras) is the capital city of Tamil Nadu, one of the southern States of India. Chennai is the fourth largest and the most populous metropolitan city in India and it ranks second in literacy rate (90.33 %).

  2. For example, Sarika Shah, a student at Ethiraj College in Chennai, fell victim to sexual assault in 1998 in the vicinity of her college. When walking to the bus stop after attending college, men in an auto (a three wheeler taxi service) seized her and pushed her against a pillar. She was assaulted repeatedly and her injuries proved fatal. Her death created a public outcry in Tamil Nadu and the State Government enacted the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Sexual Harassment Act, (T.N Act 44) 1998. This prohibits that any conduct or act by a man which causes or is likely to cause intimidation, fear or shame or embarrassment to a woman, including abusing or causing hurt or nuisance to, or assault, use of force on a woman.

  3. According to the Indian Penal Code, Section (IPC) 509 refers to eve teasing/sexual harassment—defined as a word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman. The definition is further spelled out as follows: “Whoever, intending to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen, by such woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to 1 year, or with fine, or with both.” Until 2011, Crime in India reports “eve teasing” as a category of crimes against women recorded under Indian Penal Code section 509, but sexual harassment may also fall under section 294 (obscene acts and songs) and section 354 (Assault on Women with intent to outrage her Modesty). Following the public outcry since 2012 about the more serious forms of these offenses, there have been extensive changes in the Indian Penal Codes in distinguishing sexual harassment behaviors. For example, until 2011 IPC section 354 has been recorded as Molestation. Since 2012 it has been referred as Assault on Women with intent to outrage her modesty. In 2012 and 2013, IPC section 509 has been reported as “Insult to the Modesty of Women” and in 2014 these offenses have been reported according to the places in which they occurred: Office Premises; Other places related to Work; In Public Transport System. Further, in 2012–2013 section 354, which used to be referred as molestation, has been reported as “Assault on Women with intent to outrage her Modesty”. According to 2014 data, section 354 has been further divided into 4 categories: section 354A (sexual harassment); 354B (Assault or use of criminal force to women with intent to Disrobe); 354C (Voyeurism); 354D (Stalking).In 2014 Crime in India reports 21, 938 nationwide incidents of sexual harassment under a new category 354A. At the same time, as shown in Table 1 above, section 509 (in the name of insult to the Modesty of Women) reported 9796 incidents of sexual harassment or “eve teasing”.

  4. In the interests of promoting more open discussion, it was thought best not to tape record the discussions. Tape recording might have inhibited the young women, who, in India are not used to talking openly about sexual matters in public, especially in the presence of male students. To be consistent the discussions were not tape recorded in the all-women’s colleges.

  5. Groups of young girls sometimes engage in “Adam teasing” of young boys.

  6. A complaint about a crime incident is first filed in the Community Service Register (CSR) and the police then summon the individuals concerned to the station for a review. After the investigation, the station head files a First Information Report (FIR) which leads to the arrest of the perpetrators for a cognizable offense.

  7. This contributes to under recording and under reporting of eve teasing.


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The research was supported by the City University of New York (PSC-CUNY GRANT), Project Title: Paths to Victimization: Sexual Harassment of Women in Public Places in India. The opinions or views expressed in this paper do not necessarily reflect those of the City University of New York. Thanks are due to the college administrators in Chennai and the Police Commissioner for granting permission to undertake the study, as well as to the students and the police officers who participated in the study. The International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC) provided essential assistance for the research. Special thanks to Prof. Ronald V. Clarke for his comments on the earlier version of the paper.

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Natarajan, M. Rapid assessment of “eve teasing” (sexual harassment) of young women during the commute to college In India. Crime Sci 5, 6 (2016).

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