‘Merely a Compliment’? Community Perceptions of Street Harassment in Melbourne, Australia


Community attitudes towards sexual and gender-based violence play a central role in normalising, excusing and minimising perpetrators’ actions, as well as fostering a violence-supportive culture. However, we currently know little regarding how members of the community understand or perceive ‘everyday’ or seemingly ‘minor’ forms of harassment and intrusion, such as street-based harassment, with most research focusing on sexual assault and rape. To address this gap, we conducted a mixed-methods, vignette-based survey with members of the community in Melbourne, Australia. The survey examined participants’ perceptions of five scenarios depicting incidents that might constitute street harassment, including the extent to which participants viewed the scenarios as harmful, complimentary or in breach of social norms, and who bore responsibility for the incident. Findings suggest that participants typically held progressive understandings of harassment, but they nonetheless drew on victim-blaming or minimising discourses at times. In closing, we consider the implications for future research and primary prevention work.

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Except where otherwise noted, content in this journal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Published: 2023-06-01
Pages:83 to 96
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How to Cite
Cullen-Rosenthal, E. and Fileborn, B. (2023) “‘Merely a Compliment’? Community Perceptions of Street Harassment in Melbourne, Australia”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 12(2), pp. 83-96. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.2218.

Author Biographies

University of Melbourne

Emily Cullen-Rosenthal is a PhD candidate in the School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne.Emily's PhD adopts a crip theoretical lens to contest ableism in public space.

The University of Melbourne

Dr Bianca Fileborn (she/they) is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology, University of Melbourne. Their recent research includes an ARC funded project examining victim-centred justice responses to street harassment, sexual violence in live music spaces and licensed venues, and sexual violence and LGBTQ+ communities. Bianca is the author of Reclaiming the night-time economy: unwanted sexual attention in pubs & clubs, and co-editor of #MeToo and the Politics of Social Change, and Geographies of Gender-Based Violence.