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Cityscape: Volume 16 Number 1 | Article 4


Housing, Contexts, and the Well-Being of Children and Youth

Volume 16 Number 1

Mark D. Shroder
Michelle P. Matuga

Coercive Sexual Environments: What MTO Tells Us About Neighborhoods and Sexual Safety

Robin Smith
Megan Gallagher
Susan Popkin
Urban Institute

Amanda Mireles
Stanford University

Taz George
Urban Institute

Earlier research on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Moving to Opportunity (MTO) for Fair Housing Demonstration identified sexual environments as an important dimension of neighborhood quality for young people. The study presented in this article uses survey data and new indepth interviews with young women in MTO households to present the perspectives of women experiencing harassment in their neighborhoods and to deepen our understanding of how harassment relates to other aspects of their lives. Indepth interview respondents (N = 40) describe what it is like to live with chronic violence and predatory threats and how the violence and threats constrain community life. Women in these communities describe daily life with catcalls, grabbing, sexually suggestive language, and violence toward women and even very young girls. Our nonexperimental analysis of girls in the MTO Final Impacts Evaluation survey data (N = 2,183) supports a link between chronic violence and disadvantage and the existence of a coercive sexual environment (CSE) that further undermines the well-being of women and girls. We use multivariate ordinary least squares regression to identify contextual, social and emotional, and economic and demographic factors that are correlated with reported harassment. We observe a positive, statistically significant relationship between reported harassment and indicators of chronic neighborhood disadvantage. We argue that policy interventions aimed at improving the lives of young women in low-income neighborhoods need to identify and address CSEs.

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