Salud Pública de México

Experiences of street harassment and associations with perceptions of social cohesion among women in Mexico City

Experiences of street harassment and associations with perceptions of social cohesion among women in Mexico City

Paola A Campos, BA,(1) Kathryn L Falb, ScD,(2) Sara Hernández, BA,(3)Claudia Díaz-Olavarrieta, PhD,(4) Jhumka Gupta, ScD.(5)

(1) Innovations for Poverty Action. Mexico City, Mexico.
(2) Chronic Disease Epidemiology, Yale School of Public Health. New Haven, Conn, USA
(3) Department of Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Cambridge, MA, USA
(4) National Institute of Public Health and Population Council. Mexico
(5) Department of Global and Community Health, College of Health and Human Services, George Mason University. Fairfax, Virginia, USA

Campos PA, Falb KL, Hernández S,Díaz-Olavarrieta C, Gupta J.Experiences of street harassment and associations with perceptions of social cohesion among women in Mexico City.Salud Publica Mex 2017;59:102-105.

Received on: May 10, 2016 • Accepted on: September 6, 2016
Corresponding author: Dra. Jhumka Gupta. Department of Global and Community Health, College of Health and Human Services, George Mason University. University Drive 4400. 22030, Fairfax, Virginia, USA.


  1. Resumen
  2. Abstract
  3. Introdution
  4. Materials and methods
  5. Results and discussion
  6. Acknowledgments
  7. Notes
  8. References


Objective. To document the frequency and forms of street harassment and examine the association between street harassment experiences and perceptions of social cohesion. Materials and methods. Baseline survey data collected among women seeking care in public health clinics in Mexico City were used for analysis. Results. Nearly two-thirds (62.8%) of women reported experiencing some form of street harassment in the prior month; women with street harassment experiences reported significantly lower perceived social cohesion (b=-0.46; 95%CI: -0.69,-0.22). Conclusions.Findings indicate reducing street harassment may have important implications for improving women’s perceived social cohesion and their safety in Mexico City.

Keywords: street harassment; urban area; gender violence; Latin America


Objetivo. Documentar frecuencia y tipos de acoso en la calle (AC) y la asociación entre experiencias de AC y percepción de cohesión social (CS). Material y métodos. Análisis de encuesta a mujeres que solicitan servicios en clínicas de la Secretaría Salud del Gobierno de la Ciudad de México. Resultados. 62.8% reportó algún tipo de AC el mes previo a la encuesta; aquéllas con experiencias de AC reportaron índices significativamente menores de CS (b = -0.46; IC95%: -0.69, -0.22).Conclusiones. Reducir el AC puede tener implicaciones importantes para mejorar la percepción de CS y la seguridad de las mujeres en la Ciudad de México.

Palabras clave: acoso en la calle; zona urbana; violencia de género; América Latina

In March 2013, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women declared, for the first time, the importance of addressing sexual harassment against women and girls in public places.1 Considered a form of gender-based violence (GBV) against women,2 street harassment can include any act or comment perpetrated in a public space that is unwanted and threatening, and motivated by gender; it may include sexually suggestive comments, unwanted touching, invasion of space, and rape.3

Though epidemiologic research on the public health implications of street harassment is scarce, reports from non-governmental organizations suggest that street harassment can negatively affect women and girls’ health through limiting physical mobility, which can in turn reduce their ability to sustain employment or seek healthcare.1,2 Street harassment may also impact women’s perceptions of community safety4 and their perceptions of connectedness to their community (i.e., social cohesion).5,6 Extensive research has documented that poor perception of social cohesion is linked to an array of negative health outcomes and behaviors (i.e., chronic diseases, poor mental health).6-8 Additionally, poor social cohesion has been linked to increased crime and violence,9 including intimate partner abuse.10 To date, however, little research has examined street harassment, limiting public health’s ability to quantify the extent of the problem and understand its relationship with other important social determinants of health.

Thus, the aims of this study were to: 1) document the frequency and forms of street harassment, 2) document actions women take to avoid street harassment, and 3) explore the association between street harassment experiences and perceptions of social cohesion among women seeking care in public health clinics in Mexico City. Investigation of street harassment is warranted given Mexico City’s recent investment in women-only transportation efforts to improve safety in public spaces.11

Material and methods

Data were drawn from a baseline survey among women currently participating in a randomized controlled trial (N=952). The overarching study’s objective was to assess the efficacy of a comprehensive screening and counseling program on reductions of intimate partner violence (IPV).12 Adult women presenting at study clinics were eligible to participate if they reported past-year experiences with physical and/or sexual IPV. After providing informed consent, participants were invited to take a 45 minute spanish survey administered by trained research assistants. The overarching study was approved by human subjects committees at Yale University, George Mason University, National Institute of Public Health (Mexico). Baseline data were collected from April to November 2013 across 42 health clinics in Mexico City.

Exposure to past-month street harassment was assessed via eight items13 categorized into binary (yes/no) measures of non-physical and physical street harassment (table I). All women were asked about actions taken to avoid street harassment. The outcome, social cohesion, was assessed through five binary items.14 Responses were summed; a higher score indicated higher social cohesion (Cronbach’s α=0.71). Demographics included in the analyses were: age, occupation, and health clinic location.

Using complete case analysis, unadjusted and adjusted regression models were developed to assess the relationships of interest in Stata 12.1.(a)

Results and discussion

The mean age of study participants was 29.88 (SD 7.17). Over 6 in 10 (66.7%) reported completing less than a high school education. Over half (66.9%) reported being a homemaker, while 1 in 5 (19.8%) reported some form of employment.

Over 60% (n=598) of women reported experiencing at least one form of street harassment in the past month; the most common being looked at in an uncomfortable way (table I). Over one-quarter (26.8%) reported experiencing physical street harassment. Among all women, 75% reported taking some action to avoid street harassment.


Mean social cohesion was 2.69 (SD: 1.6). Experience of non-physical street harassment was associated with a -0.47 reduction in perceived social cohesion (95%CI: -0.66-0.29) compared to women who did not report such harassment in the unadjusted model. Women reporting physical street harassment had a similar reduction in social cohesion (b=-0.46; 95%CI: -0.69-0.22). The associations between experiences of street harassment and reduced perceptions of social cohesion remained statistically significant after accounting for age, occupation, district and health center (table II).


Street harassment was found to be highly prevalent among this sample of women. The analysis found that experiencing street harassment negatively impacts a woman’s perception of social cohesion, and that women often reported limiting their mobility to reduce street harassment. Study limitations include reliance on a non-random, clinic-based sample of women with recent IPV experiences. It is currently unclear how, if at all, IPV may impact street harassment experiences. Due to the cross-sectional nature of the survey, causality cannot be inferred nor can the temporal ordering of the relationship between perceived social cohesion and street harassment. Future research may also seek to examine how social cohesion at the area-level may impact street harassment. Lastly, study measures of social cohesion have not been validated in this sample.

Though preliminary, study findings indicate that street harassment is pervasive, and reducing it may have important implications for improving women’s perceptions of neighborhood social cohesion within Mexico City.9,15 Future research on street harassment is needed for this burgeoning urban public health concern.


To Lauren Gurfein for her careful review of the manuscript and editorial suggestions.


(a) StataCorp. 2011. Stata Statistical Software: Release 12.1 College Station, TX: StataCorp LP.1

Declaración de conflicto de intereses. Los autores declararon no tener conflicto de intereses.


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7. Fone D, White J, Farewell D, Kelly M, John G, Lloyd K, et al. Effect of neighborhood deprivation and social cohesion on mental health inequality: a multilevel population-based longitudinal study. Psychol Med 2014;44(11):2449-2460.

8. Kim ES, Park N, Peterson C. Perceived neighborhood social cohesion and stroke. Soc Sci Med 2013;97:49-55.

9. Sampson RJ, Raudenbush SW, Earls F. Neighborhoods and violent crime: A multilevel study of collective efficacy. Science 1997;277(5328):918-924.

10. VanderEnde KE, Yount KM, Dynes MM, Sibley LM. Community-level correlates of intimate partner violence against women globally: A systematic review. Soc Sci Med 2012;75(7):1143-1155.

11. Dunckel-Graglia A. Pink transportation’ in Mexico City: reclaiming urban space through collective action against gender-based violence. Gend Dev 2013;21(2):265-276.

12. Falb KL, Diaz C, Campos PA, Valades J, Cardenas R, Carino G, Gupta J. Evaluating a health care provider delivered intervention to reduce intimate partner violence and mitigate associated health risks: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial in Mexico City. BMC Public Health 2014;14(1):772-782.

13. Hollaback. Street harassment survey. Hollaback Croatia. 2012 [consulted August 24, 2016]. Available from:

14. Sapag JCAracena MVillarroel L, Poblete F, Berrocal C, Hoyos R, et al. Social capital and self-rated health in urban low income neighborhoods in Chile. J Epidemiol Community Health 2008;62(9):790-792.

15. Popkin SJ, Leventhal T, Weismann G. Girls in the ‘Hood: The Importance of Feeling Safe. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute, 2008.

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