How online crowdsourced data is helping safecity understand patterns of Sexual Violence in India

Sexual violence is a daily reality and a global pandemic affecting one in three women at least once in their lifetime. The statistics in India are equally shocking where the National Crime Bureau statistics indicate that a rape occurs every 20 minutes in India. The UN Women India’s site reports that almost 2 out of 3 women reported facing incidents of sexual harassment up to five times in the past year in New Delhi, whilst 95% of women and girls feel unsafe in public spaces.

I am the founder of the organization Safecity, and since 2013, we have collected over 10,000 stories of sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence. These stories include stalking, masturbation on public transport and groping in crowded areas like railway platforms and overhead bridges.

The idea for Safecity was born as a response to the horrific gang rape of Jyoti Singh on a bus in December 2012.

My co-founders and I wanted to provide a platform where anyone could share their personal experiences of being sexually harassed in a public space. This information is collated as location-based trends and visualised on a map as hotspots. The aim is to make it easier for people to report incidents anonymously and to help them make more informed choices about their own safety or to mobilise their communities to find local neighbourhood solutions and drive accountability amongst the police or municipal authorities.

There is a lot of silence around the issue because of the shame associated with this kind of violence. Often women and girls don't speak up or confront their perpetrator because they are afraid of bringing shame to themselves and their families, afraid that their choices and mobility will be further restricted if they tell their family members or that somehow the blame will circle right back at them - on what they wore, what they said, what time of day they were in that space and who they were with.

This makes the issue quite “invisible” and perpetuates a culture that is insecure where the perpetrator gets away scot free and becomes bolder over a period of time. Thus having these anonymous reports in the public domain is quite powerful to not only document the incident but also use the Internet, which is a powerful channel, to connect us to each other and help us address these issues in innovative ways that were not available earlier. For example, based on the data that Safecity has collected for Delhi, I know that if I were to take the metro line alighting at Kailash Colony station, my journey is going to be much more hassle-free than if I were to get off at Nehru Place, which is a hotspot of harassment reports and much more crowded.

Crowdsourced data help us understand patterns and trends based on people’s historical experiences.

We can design interventions that have a localised impact. For instance, our partner organisation in Kibera, Nairobi, noticed that one of the hotspots where girls reported being groped on their way to school was near a local mosque. They invited the Imam of the mosque for a meeting and presented the data to him. He decided to use his sermons to educate the young men of the community about what was appropriate behaviour and what was not and this greatly helped in stopping the groping.

We have several examples across countries, cities and income levels where our data set have been used to convince the police to increase vigilance or change beat patrol timings, municipal authorities to fix street lights and make safe and clean public toilets available as well as compel elected representatives to make budgets available for CCTV cameras in key locations identified by residents as hotspots.

Thus, Safecity has armed us with crowdsourced data that can help us “measure” sexual violence and provides the most powerful way for everyday citizens to localize, visualize and aggregate data in a way that authorities can’t ignore.

For crowdsourcing to succeed in the battle against sexual violence, everyone—citizens, civil society, and government—must take part. If they do, I have no doubt in my mind that we can eradicate this pandemic.

If you would like to share an incident of harassment, click here.


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ElsaMarie DSilva

ElsaMarie DSilva

ElsaMarie D’Silva is Founder & CEO of Safecity that crowd maps sexual harassment in public spaces. A Fellow with Vital Voices, Aspen New Voices, an alumni of the US State Department Exchange Program