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ElsaMarie D’Silva, Safecity

I am ElsaMarie DSilva, Founder & CEO of Red Dot Foundation (Safecity). We are based in India; we crowdsource personal experiences of sexual violence in public spaces, then collate and visualize this data on a map as hotspots. The aim is to make public spaces safer and equally accessible to all, especially women and girls, through raising awareness on the issue of sexual violence, educating people on the legislations in effect, improving their situational awareness and engaging communities to find local neighborhood solutions. 

 We launched Safecity in response to a horrific gang rape of a young woman on a bus in Delhi in December 2012. That incident shocked everyone, including me. It opened up the conversations on the issue of sexual violence and I found that everyone I knew had a story to share which until then we had all stayed silent about. 

 In fact, even more shocking were the global statistics. UN Women states that 1 in 3 women experience some form of sexual assault at least once in their lifetime, yet 80% of women and girls choose to remain silent due to fear of bringing shame to themselves and their families, fear of dealing with the police and lengthy judicial process for justice. In my experience, the statistics in India are much higher and there is a rape that occurs every 15 minutes. 

 Over the last 3 years we have collected close to 10,000 personal stories of sexual violence from women in India, Nepal, Kenya and Cameroon, we have conducted workshops for over 9,000 people ranging from 6 - 60 years and have worked in neighborhoods across Delhi and Mumbai impacting the lives of over 10,000 families. We use the online data that women and girls share to identify factors that lead to behavior that cause sexual violence and help us think through strategies to find solutions. We partner with other NGOs, citizen and student groups that work local communities to create awareness and collect information on sexual violence. The data highlights trends and we then mobilize the community to rally around the issue using the data as the base. 

For example, our data helped us identify a hotspot in an urban slum in Delhi. It was on a main road near a tea stall. Men would loiter there while drinking their tea and intimidate women and girls with their constant staring. When asked what they wanted to change about their neighborhood the young girls said that they would like the staring to stop. So we organized an art workshop for them and they painted the wall with staring eyes and subtle messaging that loosely translates in English to – “Look with your hearts and not with your eyes.” It’s been two years since the wall mural was painted and the staring and loitering has stopped and the girls can walk comfortably, with no stress to school, college or work, without fear of being intimidated by those men. 

Changing cultures of violence is partly about policies, but it’s also about giving people a voice. By making it easy for people to share their stories and report, and thus transparently showcasing data we can hold institutions accountable. We have several examples where, on presenting the data, police have changed beat patrol timings and increased patrolling, municipal authorities have fixed street lighting and made safe public toilets available. Together with a partner organization in Nepal, we pressured the transportation authorities to issue “women only” bus licences. 

Join our movement by encouraging people to break their silence and record their story on our website: Safecity. This will help create a culture of reporting crimes of sexual violence.