Recently, women and organizations have risen up to combat the high levels of sexual harassment in various industries, from revealing their intimidators to establishing funds to help women who have been through similar experiences. Now, women are taking the movement to a more local level by founding organizations or creating new ways women can report harassment in the streets.
ElsaMarie D’Silva is the founder of the app Safecity, which allows women in India to anonymously report their incidences of harassment. D’Silva says that the founding of such apps can have a widespread effect on how women approached the issue. She, for one, saw how her own app allowed for such an effect.
“I realized that so many of my friends had similar experiences to mine — but until then we had never talked about it,” she said.
Other apps include HarassTracker, which is based out of Lebanon, and HarassMap, which operates in Egypt. “Back when [HarassMap] first launched in 2010, in our culture it was just normal to ignore harassment or deny that it was happening,” said Noora Finkleman, the co-founder of HarassMap. “So we said, why not have an online technology that allows women to anonymously report their experiences, so we can start documenting that this is actually happening, that this is a widespread problem.”
When the app first launched, the numbers were slow – about 200 reports were published on the app that year. But the next year, the numbers picked up, almost doubling to 400. Finkleman knows, however, that while it is a gratifying number, it’s not exactly realistic.
“The number of reports that we received is probably nowhere close to what was actually happening,” Finkleman said. “Not everyone had access to get online and report, and despite our outreach efforts a lot of people didn’t know there even was such a tool.”
She notes that fake reports may be a part of the process, but they are very unlikely. “What motivation would someone have to make a fake report anyway?”
Still, she said, HarassMap has allowed women in Egypt to speak more freely about the subject of harassment, just like D’Silva’s app has allowed for women in India. “These days, more and more people are feeling free to talk about sexual harassment on their own personal profiles on Facebook,” she said. She also notes that it’s helped the push for legislation against harassment in the streets; men found guilty of harassment can face from six months to five years in prison, and may have to pay a fine of up to $280.
But perhaps the biggest benefit of the apps is the power they give to women. “I think these platforms are great because the control is given to the women,” said Jhumka Gupta, an epidemiologist at George Mason University. “They don’t have to go through the police or public authorities who may not take them seriously.”
“I do credit these [websites and apps] for bringing public awareness to the issue. The next step is engaging communities and engaging men to stop harassment,” she continues.
Still, Gupta notes, there is a ways to go. “There’s not a lot of public health data on street harassment,” she said. “And there’s a lot we still don’t know about its mental health impact. Does it prevent women from going to health clinics? From using public transportation?”
Considering sexual harassment as a public health issue hasn’t been widely explored yet, but the effects of sexual harassment in the long-term may soon bring about a need to study it as one.
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