Sexual-Harassment-Reporting Apps Help Stop Abuse in Global City Streets

12 November, 2018

Published by Sonia Weiser

Sexual-harassment-reporting apps help stop abuse in global city streets

Kosovo’s #WalkFreely (or #EcShlire in Albanian) is another open-source map for reporting — and avoiding — sexual harassment. Helmed by Blerta Thaçi, #WalkFreely was launched in February 2016 through a partnership between Open Data Kosovo, Women’s Network Kosovo, and Girls Coding Kosovo. It shares many of SafeCity’s goals and motivations: Thaçi and her colleagues aim to raise awareness of the ubiquity of gender-based violence, reframe the conversation around sexual assault so it’s viewed as unacceptable, prove that technology has a critical role in activism, and ultimately, supply data to those who need it. #WalkFreely has already collected more than 500 reports and is being used in six different languages.

The beginning stages of any platform reliant on user input demand heavy outreach, and like any other nascent app, #WalkFreely faces significant challenges. At this stage, the app alone cannot provide full support for victims. Although the team has created a proposal for how the app could transmit reports directly to the police and bypass the official reporting procedure needed to open a case, #WalkFreely lacks the funding to implement such a massive institutional change.

It’s a common dilemma: Lack of funding means an inability to fully market the product, which slows the rate of adoption, and in turn, makes it harder for investors to see its value. With a sexual-harassment-reporting app, the usual obstacles facing a new app are compounded by larger societal ones, like the underreporting of sexual violence and the normalization of harassment.

“Public spaces in general — you get a lot of sexual harassment even if you’re just walking by,” said Thaçi. In Kosovo, she says, it’s common for men in vehicles to speed up toward women and then stop just short of hitting them, purely to scare them. According to the app’s analytics, almost 60 percent of all reported incidents took place on the street, in another public place such as a park, or on public transportation. A report published by the Council of Europe notes that “74% of Kosovars believe that women bring sexual harassment on themselves by dressing or acting provocatively,” and “41% think that young women like to be harassed.”

Clearly, gender-based violence and the attitudes surrounding women in general need to change. However, until that happens, crowdsourced maps like #WalkFreely and SafeCity can help arm women with the knowledge they need to stay safe.

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