Street harassment can be verbal, non-verbal, and/or physical. Examples include cat-calling, racist gestures, groping, and spitting.  -  Photo: Design by Minvhy Tran, adapted from the RedDot Foundation SafeCity initiative and Vania Ceccato, “Sexual Violence in Public Transportation,” International Encyclopedia of Transportation (2019).

Street harassment can be verbal, non-verbal, and/or physical. Examples include cat-calling, racist gestures, groping, and spitting.

Photo: Design by Minvhy Tran, adapted from the RedDot Foundation SafeCity initiative and Vania Ceccato, “Sexual Violence in Public Transportation,” International Encyclopedia of Transportation (2019).

Researchers from the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) developed a survey instrument that transit operators can use to collect information from passengers about the extent, location, and characteristics of any street harassment they have experienced when using public transit.

Street harassment can be verbal, non-verbal, and/or physical. Examples include cat-calling, racist gestures, groping, and spitting.

Harassers target victims based on a wide variety of personal characteristics such as perceived gender, race, disability, or sexual orientation. Fear of harassment leads many would-be transit riders to ride only at certain times of day or only when traveling with a companion — or even to stop riding transit altogether.

Groups Most at Risk

Although both male and female riders may suffer from harassment, the problem is more severe for women and girls, especially those who are low-income or of color.

Evidence also suggests that nonbinary and transgender transit passengers experience disproportionate levels of sexual harassment.

Study author Asha Weinstein Agrawal, PhD, explained the need for the research: “Despite wide-spread acknowledgment that transit passenger harassment is a problem, most transit operators don’t know specifically who is targeted, what kinds of behaviors are common, the scale of the problem, or how victims respond.”

About the MTI Survey

The MTI survey provides a rigorously-vetted research method transit operators can use to gather evidence about the extent of passenger harassment. Survey findings will allow transit operators to develop appropriate programs to combat the kinds of harassment happening on their systems.

The study was conducted in accordance with California Senate Bill 1161 (2022), legislation introduced by California State Senator Dave Min. More recent legislation from Senator Min, California Senate Bill 434 (2023), requires California’s 10 largest transit operators to document passenger experiences with harassment using the MTI survey or an equivalent and report the findings by the end of 2024.

The survey instrument was produced in English, Spanish, and Chinese. It is also available in 11 AAPI languages thanks to support from Stop AAPI Hate.

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