HarassMap: Fight Against Sexual Harassment

Case study: HarassMap – Changing Attitudes to Harassment and Assault in Egypt

“A bunch oScreen Shot 2016-02-21 at 8.53.19 PM.pngf children just sexually harassed me and cursed at me in the subway at Mahatet El Zahraa”

“I was walking home late at night and a taxi driver pulled up in front of me, parked the car, got out and unzipped his pants and started touching himself…”

“Two men were touching my butt and tried to touch my breast… It seemed they tried to rape me. Fortunately, I could run away.”

HarassMap: Using Crowdsourced Data to Map Sexual Harassment in Egypt

The above statements illustrate the harsh realities of sexual harassment which occur in Egypt. The reality is that 99.3% of Egyptian women report being sexually harassed and of those 99.3%, 49.2%, almost half, report that it occurs on a daily basis. Furthermore, most sexual harassment goes unreported due to the stigma and shame that the victims face. Fortunately, in 2010, Rebecca Chiao developed HarassMap, which is a “crowdsourcing-based advocacy, prevention, and response tool that maps incidents of sexual harassment.” Ultimately, HarassMap goal is to “overcome the cultural and institutional barriers that otherwise prevent women from reporting harassment.”

One of the benefits of HarassMap is in regards to the individual. This platform allows victims to report their experiences anonymously, which in turn, takes away the fear that may come from identifying themselves and the social stigma and shame associated with it. Also, it is able to gather information on issues pertaining to formal law enforcement channels. Firstly, sexual harassment is rarely reported to formal law enforcement because victims fear “retaliation, rejection, ostracism, or reputational damage.” On top of victims having to go through sexual harassment, they cannot even freely and comfortably go to formal law enforcement because the harassment, from being retaliated against, having your reputation damaged, etc., never ends. Furthermore, police officers tend to be the “worst harassers,” which illustrate the severity of the problem. Secondly, the victims of sexual harassment often do not come forward to report their experience because they have “little faith that anything will be done.”

One of the limitations of HarassMap is that there is little control of what happens after the victim shares their experience online. There is danger of human rights abuse that comes if “oppressive officials” want to identity who shares their experience. So, even though it is anonymous, in extreme cases, it might not be safe.

Although HarassMap has some limitations, it is still a platform that has allowed for a potential breakthrough in the fight against sexual harassment. It starts a conversation of the realities of what is happening in Egypt in regards with sexual harassment. Though this is a small step, it is a big step towards bringing change.

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HarassMap: Fight Against Sexual Harassment

Reporting sexual harassment

In his text „Protest in an information society“, R. Kelly Garrett states that the internet can be used as a source of information and verification, which is especially helpful if the traditional media appears to be biased or controlled by authorities. Since the Internet does not have a gatekeeper in the way traditional media has, it is incredibly difficult to prevent specific information from entering the web. However, information found on the internet is not always trustworthy and the author highlights how easily unverified information can be spread on the Internet. One person might post something on a social media platform and others, believing it to be true, might share it, which can result in an untrue claim going viral.

The struggle of verifying information is also addressed in Chelsea Young’s text “HarassMap: Using Crowdsourced Data to Map Sexual Harassment in Egypt”. Young explains that sometimes news articles are attached to a report to give proof of its authenticity, but that all other reports are judged for their reasonability by people working for the organization. If a report is cleared by a volunteer, it will be uploaded to the map and marked as unverified. Young states that it is nevertheless possible to distort the image by uploading false or inaccurate reports that could not be detected as such. What I found interesting is that Young did not mention the possibility of excluding reports that did actually happen and what impacts that might have. Maybe there are hardly any reports excluded, which is why she might not have considered that that could be an issue. If, however, reports got falsely excluded, the person reporting the incident might feel betrayed and not taken seriously and the organization might appear less trustworthy.

It was also interesting how Ahmed Al-Rawi wrote about who or what is blamed by different groups for the misogyny and sexual harassment happening in the Arab world. While some put the blame on improperly dressed women, others state that Islam is to blame, whereas other people say that the dress code and attitudes toward women are not part of the Quran but cultural concepts different from religion.

Furthermore, I think that raising awareness for sexual harassment does not only need to be done in the Arab world, but everywhere. I realized how UCSB is trying to create awareness of rape by including reports to the crime alert e-mails and by making the issue part of the mandatory training for incoming students, but attempts like that are not the case everywhere and “less harmful incidents” might go largely unnoticed.

Reporting sexual harassment

HarassMap: Using Crowdsourced Data to Map Sexual Harrasment in Egypt

The first data presented to us in this reading is shocking enough as 99.3% of women in Egypt report being sexually harassed and 49.2% report that this harassment occurs on a daily basis. The problem is that they feel ashamed and scared therefore they don’t report it. It should be out there, people should know what’s happening and there should be a big change.

However there has been a first movement called HarassMap created by Rebecca Chiao and which in my opinion is very effective as it is an easy way to make people aware in a visual and more eye-catching manner. This has happened as it initiated being run by volunteers and then in 2012 it received a 2-year grant from Canada’s International Development Research Centre. It is a crowdsourcing-based advocacy, prevention and response tool for all the harassment that is happening in Egypt.

HarassMap collects the information for a posterior use throughout the society on offline mobilizations to try and make people aware and more conscious that accepting this type of behavior isn’t the right one. I will mention again that this idea is a very positive one for the problem we are facing as being unable to tell the World or even someone that you know will help that problems you are facing such as sexual harassment is denigrating and unacceptable, that’s why HarassMap allows the victims to anonymously report their sexual harassment stories.

Women in Egypt are seen as inferior and sexual harassment only makes this situation worse as it has a negative impact on the way they act and participate in the public sphere. They are coerced to act in certain ways, avoid eye contact, and basically be repressed in their own country every time they walk down the street or even worse, every time of the day no matter where they are. This new tool will benefit in many levels; personal, community, national and global as it will, in some way or another, create awareness throughout the population.

I don’t think one application will make a change, but surely it will open the eyes of the population and more awareness will appear. Hopefully with this increase in awareness the number of application as well will increase. Many people don’t see what’s happening so they just prefer not to think about it but this affects everyone even if you haven’t been through it.

HarassMap: Using Crowdsourced Data to Map Sexual Harrasment in Egypt