Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Poster Paper: Coercive Sexual Environments: Neighborhoods Influences on Sexual Health and Safety

Thursday, November 12, 2015
Riverfront South/Central (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Susan Popkin1, Chantal Annise Hailey2, Nan Astone3, Jay Silverman4, Reed Jordan3 and Janine Zweig3, (1)Urban Institute, (2)New York University, (3)The Urban Institute, (4)University of California, San Diego
In our previous studies of distressed neighborhoods, we theorize that when disadvantage and violence are high and collective efficacy and social control are low, a gender-specific neighborhood mechanism can emerge that has differential effects on male and female youth. We argue that some communities develop a coercive sexual environment (CSE) where harassment, domestic violence, and sexual exploitation of women and girls are normalized and result in a climate of fear of both intimate partner violence and sexual assault victimization  (Popkin, Acs, and Smith, 2010; Popkin, Leventhal, and Weismann, 2010). In a recent paper based on data from the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) Demonstration, we explored how women and girls experience CSE, created an individual-level sexual harassment experience measure and linked the index to neighborhood disorder and violence (Smith et. al, 2014). This analysis convinced us of the value of exploring this issue as both an indicator of overall neighborhood conditions and as a predictor of poor outcomes for female adolescents.

 Our Housing Opportunity and Services Together (HOST) Demonstration has offered us a unique platform for developing robust measures and testing the relationship between neighborhood concentrated disadvantage, the development of coercive sexual environments and negative outcomes for youth.  HOST tests two-generation place-based strategies to improve outcomes for vulnerable families living in public and assisted housing. Our Washington, DC site incorporates a focus on teens and sexual health and safety.  The HOST baseline survey incorporates new indicators based on our MTO work and our qualitative work in DC intended to measure both CSE and sexual harassment (SH).  The surveys of HOST participants, both adults (n=346) and youth (n=172) were conducted in Chicago and Portland (Fall 2012) and D.C. (Summer 2013).

Using the baseline survey, we developed CSE and sexual harassment scales for adults and youth.  We find that both the CSE and SH scales behave like other key measures of neighborhood health like social disorder, violence, and collective efficacy.  Adults and youth who report higher levels of violence and social disorder also perceive higher levels of CSE and report experiencing more sexual harassment.  Further, we find that both adult and youth respondents reporting higher levels of CSE and harassment also report higher levels of depression and anxiety. Both the sexual harassment and mental health associations remain significant after controlling for other aspects of neighborhood quality and personal characteristics.

We hope other scholars will incorporate these measures into larger, multi-neighborhood surveys to test their validity as community measures of a mechanism that affects outcomes for children and youth in distressed neighborhoods.