When Rebecca Chiao came to Egypt in 2004 to work at a women’s rights NGO, women were coming in just to be able to tell someone about their experiences with sexual harassment.
Chiao decided that something had to be done about the elephant in the room that no one was willing to face, and in 2005 she started a volunteer program that later became Harass Map.
At the time, NGOs in Egypt were wary of the issue and either refused to work on it completely or wanted to only work on advocacy.
Four years later Chiao was introduced to someone who works for NiJel, a social mapping company that agreed to be her technological partner pro bono. Now all she needed to reach her dream was a group of volunteers.
She did not want Harass Map to be just another website though. She wanted to get to the source of the problem.
“On an individual level there is nothing to do when you get harassed; you cannot go to the police, you have no options really; it’s frustrating,” says Chiao. “The reporting system will allow people to speak about it. They will turn from silent victims to someone who reports this incident.”
The map’s idea is very simple; when someone reports an incident of sexual harassment, a red dot appears on the map. The red dot becomes bigger in proportion to the number of incidents reported in that area. By clicking on the red dots on the map, one can read each individual incident report for the location. Reports include detailed descriptions of women being groped, or humiliated in other ways. Using the system, women are also supposed to be able to identify “safe zones,” where there is little sexual harassment.
Harass Map’s goal is to change the way society looks at victims of sexual harassment by providing a safe way for victims to report such incidents and by giving them resources to get help.
“I feel helpless, I blame myself and feel that he harassed me because I am an unrespectable girl,” one woman reported to Harass Map in 2010, according to the organization’s first quarterly report.
HarassMap recently expanded to working on community outreach. “We map out areas where there is high sexual harassment and recruit volunteers from these areas,” Chiao explains. All harass map volunteers go through training before dealing with the general public. Chiao proudly showed me the booklet they use. People on the street are asked to be watchful and not to ignore sexual harassment. People are not expected to get into a fist fight, but just tell people that is shameful behavior. This is how the environment around us will change and sexual harassment will at some point not be tolerated anymore." Chiao continues, “The difference between now and 20 years ago is that people allow it to happen. The revolution is a great example that people can stop. It is possible.”
HarassMap has been getting many requests from neighborhood watch groups to train them for outreach on sexual harassment. “The idea is to decentralize, to empower people to work in their own environment,” says Chiao.
HarassMap is made up of volunteers only; almost fifty percent are men. To find out more, visit www.Harassmap.com or email [email protected]