Mobile Applications

Safecity: An online map of public sexual violence in India

Safecity is a platform which allows women to document their personal stories of sexual harassment and abuse in public spaces. This anonymous data then gets aggregated on a map to show trends at a local level. “The idea,” writes the company “is to make this data useful for individuals, local communities and local administration”. We catch up with Elsa D’Silva, one of its founders to learn more.

Safecity launched days after the Delhi gang rape in December 2012. How has the organisation developed since then?

We started off as an online platform to document sexual violence in public spaces as a way to bridge the gap with the underreported official statistics. However we soon realised that there was a reluctance to report, even anonymously, as there was shame involved. Many women and girls didn't even know what sexual violence comprised of and so we had to do workshops to educate on the issue and one’s legal rights.

We complement our online reporting tool with on the ground campaigns and workshops and with awareness and advocacy on social media. We aim to make public spaces safer and equally accessible to all especially women and girls. If public spaces are safer, there would be more girls and women accessing them and stepping out of their homes to get an education, a career and moving up the ladder and thereby becoming financially independent.

Do you think the situation in India improved since the enormous spotlight created by that incident?

Certainly there are more conversations on the subject which helps bring it into the open. Hopefully women will know that they are not alone and there is help available. By highlighting the issues we hope that they will not internalise the sexual violence but feel a bit empowered to seek help or even confront the perpetrator.

How big a community has Safecity assembled to tackle this problem?

We have on the ground teams in Delhi, Mumbai, Goa and now expanding to Pune as well. We have tied up with other NGOs and educational institutions like colleges, universities and NSS programmes so that we can have volunteers reach out within their campuses or other defined geographic areas. Online we have a huge following on Facebook and are building our presence on Twitter.

We have tied up with the police in the cities mentioned above. They have agreed to receive monthly reports on trends and urgent cases that require their attention. 

How have your tech partners enabled you to further your goals?

Technology is a great leveller and we believe that it has helped us reach so many people. Conversations are taking place on Facebook and Twitter about sexual violence. Our Twitter curators discuss the topic from their lens serving two purposes – a way to participate in the discussion and highlight different issues regarding gender. 

Our crowd map has allowed us to document sexual violence based on locations and identify trends that indicate neighbourhood issues. We have done so in Delhi, Mumbai and Nepal with smaller data sets from Goa, Bangalore, Cameroon and Kenya. In all these places we have worked with NGOs and other community based groups to hold institutions accountable in doing their jobs.

Which parts of India do you think are the safest and least safe for women? Why?

We are not grading areas. We are just documenting individual experiences and highlighting trends that are reported. As far as statistics are concerned, this is not limited to India but is a global pandemic with shocking rates of violence. 

Have the stories that people have supplied about harassment and abuse surprised you or are they (sadly) what you expected?

Every story breaks my heart. Many have shared their story but don't want it published even if it is anonymous. Every workshop we do, we have someone come up and share something deeply personal. I remember this workshop that we conducted for nine year old children on child sexual abuse awareness. This nine year old came up to me and said she could now go home and talk to her mother about what had happened to her with her uncle because she now knew that she had not done anything wrong! I have had two close friends confide in me - they were victims of child sexual abuse and I was the first person they were talking to about it!

These stories make me more determined to continue my work. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share with an international audience which may not know much about this subject?

UN Women states one in three women around the world face some kind of sexual assault at least once in their lifetime. More than half of these occur to girls below the age of 16 and yet 80% choose not to talk about it.

You are not alone. Don't feel afraid to speak up and find the help you need. We need to break our silence as in the 21st century this sexual violence is totally unacceptable.

Safecity runs a crowdfunding page here.

Related reading:

India: Surveillance needed to help protect women


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