Violence limits freedom and citizen’s access to opportunities in the city. In the Netherlands, 35% of women have experienced physical or sexual violence by a non-partner and 7% have experienced it in the previous 12 months. Such statistics place women’s safety concerns as a problem still present in the twenty-first century and well worth of study. This research’s main objective is to explain the relationship between built environment’s spatial features and gender-based sexual violence in public streets through the quantitative analyses of micro and macro spatial features of the streets of four neighbourhoods of Rotterdam: Cool, Nieuwe Westen, Hillesluis and Pendrecht. The micro spatial features are the function of the street, it’s constitutedness, the density and inter-visibility of entrances. The macro spatial features were obtained with the use of Space Syntax: angular analyses with low and high metrical radius, local and global integration. Sexual violence reports were provided by Rotterdam’s police (from 2012 to 2017). Results indicate that neither Jane Jacobs’ ideals of safety through eyes on the streets, nor Oscar Newman’s defensible space can be defended separately when aiming the safety of women in the streets. Pooled Poisson regression models were created to explain the number of sexual violence reports per street and per block. The resulting models at both scales show significant positive correlation between the occurrence of sexual crimes and the amount of women in the streets, local integration and function of the street. This indicates that non-residential streets that may be safe during the day become more dangerous during the night, when natural surveillance disappears. Results also suggest that mixed use is safer when there is a higher share of residences. Both hypotheses are supported by findings of Hillier and Sahbaz (2008). Inter-visibility of entrances is a negative correlate of crime, supporting that greater natural surveillance results in greater safety in the streets. Coefficients of to-movement could indicate that, on average, a street with higher flow of people has fewer crimes (especially in residential neighbourhoods), but the block that attracts such movement (usually a commercial one) has more crimes because of the lack of surveillance after stores close. A second conclusion is that the amount of people in the streets and the time component of crimes are essential elements in the analysis of the spatial distribution of sexual violence in the streets. Third is the conclusion that there seems to be more than one mechanism that governs the spatial – and temporal - distribution of sexual violence in the streets. The findings are in line with previous researches in the fields of sexual harassment in the streets, crime research, street robbery in public spaces, and gender differences in the use of streets. As recommendations for urban policy practice, results suggest that women’s safety in residential streets could benefit from a design that includes residences on both sides, with good inter-visibility between entrances. In commercial areas, land use should allow and encourage the inclusion or construction of residences, to provide mixed-use. Yet, more research is advised to confirm these ideas. Nevertheless, women’s safety in the city can benefit from greater gender equality in the employment of urban practitioners, and from the inclusion of gender mainstreaming in urban design.

, , , ,
Nes, A. van (Akkelies)
Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies

Miranda, J.V. (Júlia Vansetti). (2017, September). Sexual violence in the city. Retrieved from