WASHINGTON D.C: After the Nirbhaya gang rape in December 2012, India strengthened its law, but now a recent study suggests that sexual harassment remains a pervasive problem.
The research by a Michigan State University criminologist found that about 40 percent of women surveyed in Delhi have been sexually harassed in a public place such as a bus or park in the past year, with most of the crimes occurring in the daytime and 58 percent were sexually harassed at least once during their lifetime.
Further, 33 percent of women have stopped going out in public and 17 percent have quit their jobs rather than face harassment, or worse, in public places.
"What this means is that women, despite Nirbhaya, are still afraid," said researcher Mahesh Nalla, adding that women in India do not feel safe being in public spaces, which is clearly a human rights issue.
While sexual harassment is a problem experienced by women worldwide, it may be more prevalent in emerging democracies such as India and other countries in South Asia, where women are becoming more involved in the workforce, said Nalla.
The problem is intensified by the existence of a cramped, inadequate public transportation system, massive youth migration to urban areas and the fact that India is a traditional patriarchal society where many still believe a woman's place is in the home.
Nalla and co-investigator Manish Madan from Stockton University surveyed some 1,400 men and women in the capital city of New Delhi on a host of issues including perceptions and history of sexual harassment, use of public transportation, safety in public spaces and police effectiveness in dealing with these concerns.
Sexual harassment of women in public spaces in India and elsewhere in South Asia, known as "Eve teasing," has long been a common occurrence, particularly by groups of young male perpetrators, Nalla said.
The Dec. 16, 2012 rape and murder of Nirbhaya by a group of men on a moving bus in Delhi brought about new laws that doubled prison terms for rape and criminalized voyeurism and stalking. But despite these efforts, sexual harassment continues on a broad scale, the study suggests.
To address the problem, Nalla recommends better education on the consequences of sexual harassment and the principles of gender equality, which should start in grade school and be written into the curriculum; implementation of public-awareness efforts, which should include public-service messages and the display of "zero tolerance on sexual harassment" signs at highly visible areas such as bus stops, buses and roadsides; and more and better law enforcement and security in public places, including beefed-up police patrols and the installation of security cameras.
"The findings from this study," Nalla said, "highlight the importance and immediacy of addressing women's safety in public spaces and women's human rights."
The study appears online in the International Criminal Justice Review.