India: Mapping Street Harassment and Promoting Safe Cities

It may be a challenge to find an Indian girl who has managed to avoid being harassed on the street. Elsa Marie D’Silva is one of the founding members of Safecity, a crowdbased mapping service to “pin the creeps.” When asked if she’d ever experienced street harassment, D’Silva responded, “I haven't met a single Indian girl who hasn't faced street harassment.” Most women are trained to walk off quietly without creating a scene.

Safecity strongly believes all women We strongly believes that 'all women have the right to live safely"

Safecity strongly believes that “all women have the right to live safely”

Street harassment is pervasive in India and around the world, prompting many organizations to take action in order to combat this problem. In India, some of these include Freeze the Tease, and Hollaback India. Safecity takes a different approach, the focus is not just to ask for people to respond to the harasser, but to “pin” the location of the incident on a map.

Part of a Safecity Bystander Campaign, courtesy of Safecity's Facebook page

Part of a Safecity Bystander Campaign, to see if “People would come to aid a victim,” courtesy of Safecity's Facebook page

Safecity (also on Twitter and Facebook), inspired by a similar project in Egypt called Harassmap, began as a response to the massive protests after the now infamous Delhi gangrape in December 2012. The creators aimed to establish a platform and forum to address harassment on a long term basis. Safecity is an information aggregation platform to help identify hotspots in a city where abuse has been reported. To create a safe space for all people, Safecity asks users to “Pin the creeps!” sharing stories, photographs and/or videos and, most importantly, the location of where the event happened.

Thus far, there have been over 2700 reported incidents. While the focus is on larger trends, rather than individual cases, Safecity has been working with police in two states to see how this information might be used in coordination with law enforcement.

A poster for schools available on the Safecity website

A poster for schools available on the Safecity website

Safecity may also be a prevention tool. In one case, referred to as the “Shakti Mills Case” the accused confessed that they had raped four women at the same spot. According to the organizers this means other attempts could have been made, as D’Silva and Saloni said, “If a few people had reported the spot as a harassment prone area, different action could have been taken.”

The founders of Safecity are a small group of like-minded citizens who believe in the right to live in a safe society. “We also believe that a woman should be able to move around without fear or distress; without having to calculate which road she has to travel on so that she will be safe; without having to worry about the clothes she wears or the people she is with.”

As D’Silva and fellow founder Saloni Malhotra wrote via email, “People who harass do so in their own comfort zones. Silence on the part of victims and bystanders makes them more confident and the harassment only grows.” Instead of feeling hopeless, the organizers ask, “What can we do as ordinary citizens to change the situation? Isn't it the society that created this problem in the first place? What can we do to make change?”

Screenshot of the Safecity map

Screenshot of the Safecity map

With this in mind, Safecity is working on a series of videos discussing the importance of women knowing how to keep themselves safe. Some of the suggestions Safecity has compiled include: avoid traveling alone, never accept food or drinks from a person you don't know, and always get your own drink at a party, among others. Let’s hope it won’t be long before these lists are no longer needed.

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