ByÂ Parvathi Jayakumar:
We live in a day and age where women are apprehensive to step out in public, parents are scared to let their children be on their own, marital abuse is commonplace and shame and stigma rule the roost in cases of sexual violence. Umpteen protests, discussions and enquiry committees later, the women in our country are still unsafe and the victims of power play and dominance are yet to voice their pain. Amidst this turmoil, comes a movement called Safecity, spearheaded by Elsa D’Silva and her team.
“We need to break this vicious cycle and it would help as a start if women break their silence and start reporting/talking about the harassment they face. We provide an anonymous reporting platform and therefore there need not be any fear. Every instance is important as studies have shown that perpetrators are repeat offenders who use the same location.” explains Elsa.
Yes, that’s right. Safecity is an online reporting platform for abuse ranging from sexual to physical to even eve-teasing, with the objective of creating a map pertaining to the areas/ locations of the said abuse. For reporting an abuse, a form has to be filled up (which can be done anonymously) and the location of the same specified, so that it gets marked on the map. As the number of such pins on a particular place grows, the place gets labelled as a ‘hotspot’. Greater the number of pins, higher is the prominence of the said hotspot. This information can be used by anyone from individuals looking out for safe and unsafe places, to law enforcing agencies who wish to beef up the security measures in a particular area, to local businesses who desire to bring about a change in the prevailing conditions.
When asked about the aspirations of Safecity, Elsa explained the following:
– Facilitate conversations about sexual harassment and abuse as we find that this is still a very taboo topic with women and men not reporting their personal experiences. A lot of women don’t even understand or know that what has happened to them constitutes as sexual harassment.
– Anonymous reporting on our platform so that people can share their stories and others can find inspiration or help on how people have dealt with their situation. People also offer comments of help and suggestions to deal with it. Quite a few of these incidents have occurred in the past; therefore reporting it is cathartic to the person.
– Mapping of trends based on location. We believe that perpetrators use the same location to harass victims. If these are known, we can come up with effective solutions.
– Involve citizens, government and non government agencies to use this data for personal safety and to introduce safety solutions to make the locations identified as hotspots, safer.
An offshoot of Safecity is the idea ‘Pinning the Creeps’ which was conceived by Elsa D’Silva, Saloni Malhotra and Surya Velumuri. In Feb 2012, when they met for a management programme, they learned about an initiative that used crowd-maps to address sexual harassment. They felt the concept would work for India and implemented it with the help of Aditya Kapoor in December 2012.
A report of sexual abuse or physical violence can be made by filling the online form here or by the power of social media by logging onto facebook here. For those who like to tweet, simply use @pinthecreep, #safecity or #pinthecreep and for those who like to keep it conventional, drop a mail at [email protected] .“We are planning to introduce a mobile app for reporting as well as an SMS, missed call facility and automated voice enabled reporting in the near future” adds Elsa.
The general public can spread awareness by reporting every incident of abuse, signing up for alerts regarding the places/locations of their concern, following the endeavour on Facebook and twitter to get the latest updates and information and by also joining the movement as a volunteer.
When enquired about the outreach and impact of Safecity, Elsa accounts that the site has had more than 150000 page views, over 47000 visitors and almost 2000 reports from different parts of the country such as Jammu, Coimbatore, Guwahati, Guntur, Kochi, etc. Also, she is hopeful as she narrates how different media houses such as ABC and BBC featured their cause and went along with the volunteers to various places in Delhi to understand as to why some places where labelled unsafe or were perceived to be unsafe.
Safecity currently has 2 running on-ground campaigns:
1. Map 100 unsafe places in Delhi and NCR where they aim to collect 100000 reports in the next one year. They have tied up with WhyPoll and Aisec for the same and have a team of 10 volunteers.
2. ‘How Safe Is Your City?’ With DNA and Zee News to encourage the conversation on various aspects that make a city unsafe.
Safecity is also in the process of commencing Safecity Sundays which will be an outreach programme for victims to connect with each other as well as for people to come forward and help. There is also a plan to launch sensitivity programmes for schools, colleges and corporates to make them aware of the issue, the importance of reporting their stories, the need for bystander intervention and the resources available to them for help.
“Sexual Harassment and abuse is a global problem and not necessarily India centric or Delhi centric. It is aided by the fact that women silently accept this harassment and abuse as part of their daily lives and routine. Further bystanders do not intervene, the police are perceived to be hostile and legal rights are not well known leading to the victim continuing to remain silent and the perpetrator to becoming emboldened“, she said.
On a parting note, Elsa emphasizes on how the team is trying to put pressure on authorities to bring about effective solutions and urges the general public to make use of the maps to find out potentially unsafe places and steel themselves up accordingly.
We sincerely wish the team of Safecity all the luck in their endeavour and hope they see the change they aspire for. Don’t remain silent anymore. Submit your experiences here.Â