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A Safecity for women

“There are several reasons why women do not report sexual harassment and abuse. Most often it is because of societal and family concerns where there is still some amount of ‘shame’ attached to the ‘victim’”, says Elsa D’Silva. She is of the belief that people who are sexually harassed will not feel comfortable coming forward to report the incident unless the cultural attitude changes.
Additionally, our society is very patriarchal and further systems for reporting are quite intimidating to a woman. Besides, the hassle of making an official complaint and seeing it through can be tedious, lengthy and cumbersome if not intimidating. None of this creates a comfortable environment conducive enough for a woman to share her experiences and find redressal.
Originally an aviation professional, Elsa came to found the website after her friends and she found that lacunae in the system hindered a woman’s path to legal redressal against sexual harassment. Cases of sexual harassment against women were not being recorded.
“Why do we have to wait for a sexual crime to be perpetrated against a woman before raising a hue and cry? Can we change this to a more proactive stance whereby relevant information is more readily available?” Elsa says.
Safecity has thus come as a god sent gift to many women who face hardships day in and day out due to various types of sexual harassment. The website is a platform that documents personal stories of sexual harassment and abuse in public spaces. The data aggregates as hot spots on the map of India. Since their launch on December 26, 2012 they have managed to collect almost 3000 stories from over 50 cities in India. The idea is to create a clear picture of sexual harassment hot spots in the country. Women are also made aware about the various location-based issues. For example the data warns women to watch out for ogling and men clicking pictures in Okhla in Delhi. In Connaught Place in Delhi it is touching and groping they have to look out for.
“Safecity is too new to reduce crime rate against women. The first step is to encourage women to come forward and break their silence, share their stories and inspire others. This is a huge task”, says Elsa, who, on a positive note, observes that in the last 18 months there has been an increase in the number of people willing to open up and talk about sexual harassment and abuse.
Elsa herself has been a victim of sexual harassment on several occasions. As a 12-year-old travelling on a train in Mumbai she was groped and touched. This incident, which happened years ago, has scarred her forever. She no longer takes the train in Mumbai. “I have seen men masturbating in the BEST buses and no one challenged them because the public felt ashamed rather than making the perpetrator feel ashamed!” she adds, before talking about sexual harassment faced at the workplace where managers used their position to intimidate female junior staff. Luckily, she says she was strong enough not to let them intimidate her, but knows of others who have faced it.
While there are solutions thrown in from all quarters on tackling sexual harassment, Elsa thinks that increased awareness about nature of harassment can prepare one physically and mentally to take decisions to ensure personal safety. “For eg if travelling in Delhi by metro knowing that Nehru Place metro station has a higher incident of abuse rate my choice would be to use the Kailash Colony metro which is the next one, a bit further than Nehru Place, but in my mind a much safer option.”
Secondly, she says, “Bystander intervention is essential to reduce this kind of crime in public spaces. Men and women can intervene in a non-threatening manner when they see someone being abused or targeted.”
Safecity is trying its best to raise awareness about the issue through social media by giving simple and practical tips on staying safe
Goa too has its own issues, says Elsa referring to dark and lonely streets, which do not exactly make one feel safe. She also attributes lack of safety in Goa to drug and alcohol use.
“As women we are at risk at all times and have to be concerned and alert about our personal safety. One must always be alert, especially when partying with strangers”, says Elsa. She also says that transportation is a major concern in Goa which affects mobility a great deal unlike big cities.
Perpetrators operate in their comfort zones which can be either a physical location or attitude of mind, so has come to understand. While it is easier to fix geographic locations, which are the immediate focus of safecity, they are also attempting at zeroing on the later for which they conduct workshops designed to challenge and change attitudes and behaviours so that women at workplaces and those confined to their homes are educated about sexual harassment.
“In case of harassment in the public domain the perpetrator is unknown to the victim in most cases. However, in case of domestic and workplace harassment, the perpetrator is known, which makes it difficult to take up the matter”, she says, adding that they are marching forward towards a different technology solution to address domestic and workplace sexual harassment.
“At the end of the day, if society as a whole treats sexual harassment as a human rights violation the issue will cease to be viewed from a narrow lens as a woman›s issue. We owe it to our children to create a safe environment in the future.”
She hopes that through this platform, which includes social media and workshops, it will no longer be taboo to discuss the subject of sexual harassment and an agency will be developed to stop this type of crime.
(The group has launched a misdial facility. A missed call can be left on 9015510510 and the staff will revert to record the story. In Goa, the team has initiated a direct link with Goa police where the victim can register an online complaint with her personal details. The group has the assistance of its institutional partner Kaydence Media Ventures through its flagship product

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