Companion: an Allied against Street Harassment

Traditionally, women have occupied the private sphere (the House) and men the public (the street, work, institutions and everything else), becoming them intrusas within public space. The streets or public transport are places that belong to us all, but not everyone can feel just as safe in them. Whistles, beeps from the car, sexual comments, intimidating approaches, chases… All these concepts are manifestations of inequality that marks our day to day and that not we can detach ourselves nor in the street. Political and social the street as another form of violence harassment is not recognized against women or as a reassertion of power, but that is perceived as an inevitable expression of “masculinity”. To raise awareness about this problem and improve our quality of life (Street), there are tools like Companion, an app that we have tested thoroughly during one week.

In Spain, sexual harassment is an experience that has been a woman of each two greater than 15 years, According to General information about the of the fundamental rights agency of the Union European (FRA). If we get into the realm of street harassment, it is impossible to quantify the magnitude of the problem: is standardized and it is seen as a specificity of certain cultures or regions, rather than a global problem that is hidden under friendly terms. What exaggerated!

Street harassment, data

In “Stop Street Harassment.” “Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women”, Holly Kearl throws a series of data extracted from their years of study that says that 80% of 811 women interviewed have to remain in constant alertness When walking down the street. 50% have to cross from sidewalk and find alternate routes to their destinations. 45% feel that it can not go alone to public places and 26% lies about having partner to stop stalkers it in peace. 19% had to change jobs just to avoid the area where they have been harassed. And this is happening under the eyes of each and every one of us, every day without an official regulation.

According to this global survey on street harassment of Actionaid, 80% of women said to have felt fear returning home alone. In Argentina, 100% of those surveyed said having experienced Street harassment; 87% of participating Australian women have been attacked verbally or physically in the street, and 100% of the surveyed more than 600 French has suffered sexual harassment in public places. No need to go to a country to which we consider dangerous: just not looking away day by day.

YouGov conducted the most extensive study on harassment in public transport in 2014. They surveyed people in 16 cities around the world and did a ranking of systems more secure (New York) to the less secure (Bogotá). In terms of the experiences of verbal harassment, the five worst cities turned out to be Mexico, Bogotá, Lima, Delhi and Jakarta; and as for the experiences of physical harassment, the worst were Mexico, Bogotá, Lima, Tokyo and Delhi.

A curious fact: Belgium imposes targeted sanctions for verbal harassment from 2014. Until September 2015 counted 85 fines and sanctions were incorporated after the premiere of the film Femme de la Rue, a story of Sofie Peeters on how lives verbal harassment on the streets of Brussels.

In Spain there are no statistics that draw the situation: on the website of the Ministry of equality only can find data on sexual assault as a whole, and the latest update is from the year 2013. That year, in our country 7.057 women were victims of sex crimes. Or rather: were 7.057 women who reported sexual assaults, although they are not all that are, and it is impossible to shred the statistics with street harassment which does not commit assault criminal laws. No body count whistles, the honking, the intimidating approaches, misnamed compliments, lewd or defiant looks conversations that you don’t want to keep, “smile them, woman”, the repetitions, the exhibitionist, persecutions, public masturbation, pressure of genitals on our bodies in crowded sites… But they are there. And once again, women themselves and their civic initiatives are meeting those needs better than government agencies or the forces of the order.

Companion: with a safe public space

Companion It is a free app designed by five students from the University of Michigan, designed to make the girls feel safer on college campuses. I read about it long ago and decided to try it for a week in my back home, especially during a journey between polygons that I am concerned by the absence of people. It was clear that this app is not going to take away my fear of walking alone at night: the feeling arises from a system, is much more complex remedy and involves the rehabilitation of other actors that are beyond my control, but tools like this arise to give an injection of security. Not solved the problem of harassment Street, because this responsibility is borne by men and society as a whole, but help awareness and a little relieve that feeling of impunity before this macho typology.

The first thing to do after you download the app (free on any operating system) is to introduce name, country, and phone number. With these data, the application is ready. The first day of trial, out of the subway, the app I geolocalizo and I could mark my house as a destination. Generated a distance and an approximate number of minutes that would take to cross it, as with Maps or Citymapper. Then I chose a name from my list of contacts to be my virtual Companion. My friend Irina, who had installed the app, received a notice that asked him if he wanted to come home. When he accepted, I got a SMS for confirmation (which left no trace on your invoice or in mine), initials appeared on the screen in a field similar to the Messenger of Facebook and I started the journey. Halfway, I pressed the button “I’m nervous.”, and my friend came back to receive a message in which enclosed you a map with the exact point in which I was. “Laura is nervous, you can contact her?”. With that link, our “companions” can see where we are. Arriving at home, I marked my journey as finished and my friend received a message confirming that it had arrived safely.

In addition to this personalized follow-up for part of those who we decide, Companion includes some features that reinforce our control and which could prove that week of use: if it started to run, move me in a violent way or start phone headphones suddenly, the app took it as a sign that was having a problem and send me a message to see if it was OK. If 15 seconds it did not, the app understood that it was suffering some kind of aggression and issued a series of sounds to scare off the assailant or alert citizens who may be nearby. It also warned the contacts that I “watched” and offered me the possibility to directly call the police with one-touch via direct button.

The Pros companion are evident: allows that we walk a little safer on the street, but you can never eliminate the sense of panic; its mere existence can create social conscience, and the mouth to ear could translate into a greater mobilization by the recovery of our security in the public space. We like to dream.

The cons (in addition to the questionable translation) are more technical: some women have had problems with the generation of maps, and others have experienced failures in connection with their virtual companions. Personally, since Madrid not I have had no problem with it, though possibly in more rural or worse reported may be more complicated geolocalizarse. If any test: patience. The tool has only one year of life and functionality will improve. And if that made us scared was that it could become a caretaker constant in any output to street, after closing the app we will not receive any notification of his. We will only open it when you want to use it.

To better understand its utility, Companion could have served in cases as of Diana Quer, the girl disappeared in A Coruña on 12 August, to more quickly alert family or friends that something wasn’t going well. The use of this app would have directly affected a key factor in their case: the time. At the time that she had ceased to answer the calls of attention of the application, this would have sent messages to their companions virtual, thus accelerating the mobilization and the search process. If the digital age and its technological proposals have something good is the possibility of manage problems with greater solvency. If we can not finish with the root of the problem as fast as we’d like, we can at least try to defend ourselves.

New answers to old problems

Companion joins other tools related to security such as the initiative Hollaback, set up so that women mark “black spots” of each city, locating collectively Street harassment complaints through citizens. He was born in New York in 2005 and it has spread in more than 90 cities around the world, including Barcelona. Its slogan: “bullying is the true motivation of the harasser. And if there is a way to remove that power through their exposure? “.” This app allows victims and witnesses to explain, if they wish, what has been the aggression and even uploading a photo of the stalker.

A few months ago also it emerged Himmat, an app born in India in collaboration with the police and with the aim of protecting women from Delhi; and Safecity, a space to tell your experience and generate a “map of harassment” in every neighborhood and that was created after the brutal rape in group suffered by a student on a bus in the same city in 2012.

In the United States, cases of violations perpetrated by some drivers of Uber and the reaction of the Chief of police (“should create a network of friends to avoid this”) made Stella Matthew founded SheTaxis, a company of taxis for women led by women. In Spain, Blablacar already includes the possibility of organizing travel only between women.

Technology and education

The consequences of street harassment on women who suffer, as Patricia Gaytan appointment at sexual harassment in public places: a study from the Grounded Theory, are “the feeling of loss of control, decreased self-esteem, distortions in the cognitive evaluation of the same experiences of harassment and an increase in own insecurity and distrust of men unknown in general”. It is necessary to educate the young on equal so that they replicate any violence against women.

Technology plays an important role in the prevention of harassment and is beginning to establish itself in some centres as educational tool for equality. It’s true that in this process of adapting digital, mobile devices increasingly are used to violence, but also serve to defend it or denounce it. The women have adopted the use of the phone as a form of organization: are a great tool to facilitate networking, build links, generate links… And both they and them, from very young, can mess with apps as fumble without machismo, where you can meet the stereotype of romantic love and avoid situations of a dominant relationship while playing.

Last April the international week against street harassment in 37 cities in the world, among which no Spanish was not held. Those days were published stories, analysis and activities related to this form of violence to educate, raise awareness and eradicate the idea that sexual harassment in public spaces is part of a folklore and typical of country-specific. If more ominously, as the macho murders or rapes, deplorable attitudes seem to all, we also have to know how to identify previous symptoms and attitudes that foster and promote this inequality of power. Going out is not giving our bodies in public auction.