Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sexual Harassment in the Technology Era: “Apps Against Abuse”

Sexual Harassment in the Technology Era: “Apps Against Abuse”
Blogger: Soojin Ock, Political Planning and Action Intern

Angry Birds, Wikipedia, Fruit Ninja…other than having the amazing capability of entertaining us during our morning commutes, what do these things have in common? Well, if you haven't figured it out already they're all Smartphone apps. With the rise of Androids and iPhones and everything else in between, there seems to be an app for almost everything you could ever need. Recipes? Check. Directions? Check. Sexual harassment and assault prevention? Maybe?

According to various studies on sexual misconduct, the number of women being sexually harassed and assaulted is much higher than the number of reported cases. The American Association of University Women for example, in a current study states that almost half of middle and high school students faced sexual harassment in the last year with most of the cases going unreported. With fears of victim blame, judicial error and concern for privacy, there is no wonder why the reported numbers are so low. With a seemingly endless list of superfluous features offered by mobile companies these days, it seems that technology and social media may be able to help to some extent.

To combat sexual harassment, local and international organizations have launched new apps that allow victims and witnesses to safely and anonymously report them. When victims report details of incidences, a campaign, started by Hollaback Philly, maps out the location and time of assault as well as sends supportive emails to women to encourage reporting the incident. Whypoll, a women's nonprofit group based in India, is releasing a new app called Fight Back that allows women to send SOS messages to friends and the police. In addition, the app allows women to report the location of street harassment so that other women in Delhi can avoid these areas. Here in the US, the Department of Health and Human Services recently released a campaign highlighting “Apps Against Abuse.”

These new apps are targeted at preventing sexual assault and partner violence by allowing women to quickly get in touch with friends or emergency contacts when in trouble. The app, “Circle of Six”, allows women to call friends with pre-programmed texts while, “On Watch”, activates a GPS coordinate to a friend if a situation goes south. These apps no doubt can and will help a lot of women who find themselves in trouble. However, technology can only go so far in protecting the rights and safety of women.

For the most part, these apps are largely based on sexual harassment and assault that occur outside of the workplace. Though greatly supported by sexual assault groups, these apps can do little to change the work culture if the complaints are not brought forth to the proper authorities. Yes, reporting these incidences anonymously online may help other women; however, it is only a small fix rather than a greater systematic change. Smartphone apps may not be helpful in workplace or school situations but reporting sexual harassment and assault will. By reporting cases we are encouraging other women to do the same so that we can change the overall dialogue of sexual misconduct in any social situation.

While a systematic fix only temporarily manages a problem, a systematic change can permanently transform the rules and enforce the protections that Title VII guarantees. We need to empower ourselves, our friends and even strangers to report any misconduct that they may fall victim to either in the street, the workplace or classroom. Without accurate information, resources that could be used to combat harassment and assault will be diverted elsewhere while perpetrators continue to victimize others. While informally reporting grievances may prevent other women from being harmed, our society needs to encourage an atmosphere where no occurrence of sexual misconduct or violation goes unreported or uninvestigated.

As with any progressive social movement, this will undoubtedly be an uphill battle. While massive underreporting is a current problem, we need to also acknowledge that legislation and enforcement of the law are imperative to these measures. Without support from legislators and voters, over time sexual misconduct laws be degraded into nothing more than a joke. Without our votes and representatives, these laws and policies can lose the strength they had to protect against violations. It is imperative that we, from the unemployed to the employed, from the student to the teacher, vote for measures and legislators willing to fight on our behalf. In the age of wireless tablets, touch screen computers and talking phones, anything seems possible. If science can go this far, there is no reason that we cannot go further.

 This is part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.


  1. Internet sexual harassment is an issue that should be dealt with immediately. Hoping for the kinda technology that can prevent such things online, cause in the real life it can be prevented by means of the mobile phone. Hey phones nowadays even have features like tracing a number.

  2. online harassment is really a very serious issue now a days and there should be some serious steps to avoid this.Revelation Law Firm

  3. Technology has offered both good and bad outcome. Sexual harassment in this case seemed like it has been easier to execute. Internet is a very good of example of how easy a person can be subjected into such a harassment. This seems to be another task for attorneys on sexual harassment.