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Gender, Perceptions of Safety and Strategic Responses among Ohio University Students

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Research on perceptions of safety in public spaces must seek a balance between paying careful attention to the effects of gender, while challenging simplistic notions of a dichotomy of fearful women and fearless men. In a study of perceptions of safety among undergraduate students at the Ohio State University, this principle was addressed by decentering fear as the object of study and focusing instead on the various strategies that women and men use to manage their perceptions of safety - including avoidance of certain situations (for example, being in specific places, or going outside after dark), precautionary measures, and assertions of confidence. Questionnaire responses and follow-up interviews indicated that most students usually felt safe on campus; however, women were more likely than men to have felt unsafe. Students used a wide range of strategies to make themselves feel safer, from staying home after dark to formulating plans for self-defense to telling themselves they had nothing to fear. While a focus on strategic responses illuminated areas of overlap in men's and women's experiences, gender differences were also striking. Men are unlikely to rely on avoidance strategies, while some women view self-imposed restrictions on activity as normal and necessary. Furthermore, many men are unwilling or unable to relate to questions about fear and safety, explicitly or implicitly reinscribing fear as a 'women's issue'.
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Keywords: Gender; campus; fear; public space; safety

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2007

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