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More Public Toilets May Reduce Sexual Assault in South Africa

Increasing the number of public toilets in South African townships may reduce sexual violence against women by nearly 30% and reduce the associated economic costs of sexual assault, according to a new study published in PLOS ONE by researchers at the Yale School of Management and the Yale School of Public Health.

  • Edward H. Kaplan
    William N. and Marie A. Beach Professor of Operations Research, Professor of Public Health & Professor of Engineering

Women who must walk long distances from their homes to public toilets are at risk for sexual assault. In Khayelitsha, an urban township of Cape Town, an average of 635 sexual assaults on women traveling to and from toilets were reported each year between 2003 and 2012, with total annual social costs of $40 million, including medical and legal expenses, lost earnings, and pain and suffering.

The researchers developed a mathematical model that links the risk of sexual assault to the number of sanitation facilities and the time a woman must spend walking to a toilet. According to the model, increasing the number of toilets from 5,600 to 11,300 would reduce sexual assaults to 446, and would reduce the cost to society to $35 million. The costs of toilet installation and maintenance would be more than offset by the lower costs associated with sexual assault. Increasing the number of toilets to 21,400 would decrease sexual assaults by nearly 49% at no additional cost to society.

“In Khayelitsha, there is only one toilet for every 70 persons. This alone suggests that increasing the number of toilets is sensible, but a bit of analysis reveals the potential reduction in walking (and associated risks) that can be achieved by adding more toilets,” says Professor Edward H. Kaplan, a co-author of the study.

“Reducing Sexual Violence by Increasing the Supply of Toilets in Khayelitsha, South Africa: A Mathematical Model,” is published in PLOS ONE by Gregg S. Gonsalves (Yale School of Public Health), Edward H. Kaplan (Yale School of Management), and A. David Paltiel (Yale School of Public Health).

Read more about the study on YaleNews.

Department: Research