The prevalence and nature of sexual harassment and assault against women and girls on public transport: an international review

Anna Gekoski, Jacqueline M. Gray, Joanna R. Adler, Miranda A.H. Horvath

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to report on the findings from a study commissioned by the British Transport Police and the Department for Transport for England and Wales concerning sexual offences and harassment on public transport worldwide. Specifically, it aims to explore the prevalence of such behaviours, through a review of existing survey and interview data regarding women and girls’ experiences. Design/methodology/approach: A rapid evidence assessment (REA) was used, the function of which is to: search the literature as comprehensively as possible within given time constraints; collate descriptive outlines of the available evidence on a topic and critically appraise it; sift out studies of poor quality; and provide an overview of the evidence. Findings: It was found that prevalence rates range from 15 to 95 per cent, with the UK having the lowest rates. Emerging economies had higher rates of harassment and assault, which may relate to differing cultural and gender norms, where public space is regarded as a male domain. Research limitations/implications: A REA is not a full systematic review, differing in the scope and depth of the searches and depending almost exclusively on electronic databases, not accompanied by searching journals by hand. Practical implications: More research of high methodological rigour needs to be carried out on prevalence rates of sexual harassment and offending on public transport worldwide. The high prevalence rates found suggest the need for more work around the area of interventions to curtail offending in this setting. The findings suggest that emerging economies, in particular, need to do more to address the problem of sexual harassment and assault on public transport. More fundamentally, cultural norms around women’s roles in society need to be addressed and challenged. Originality/value: Women may become “transit captive” and socially excluded if they are afraid to travel on public transport and do not have access to private transport. This would be an unacceptable situation which must be addressed by transport authorities and police.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-16
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017


  • Mass transit
  • Public transport
  • Rape
  • Sexual harassment
  • Sexual offending
  • Unwanted sexual behaviour


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