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How Technology Is Helping to Put an End to Sexual Harassment

It can be difficult to determine how many people, around the globe, experience sexual harassment every day. In some countries, cultural norms pressurize survivors of sexual harassment into not reporting it. In other countries, sexual harassment is not even considered if it is between a wife and her husband. In other words, a wife cannot file a rape case against her husband.

Many times, survivors of harassment have a strong fear of reprisals — when it comes to workplace harassment, 75% of survivors suffered retaliation after speaking up.

But even though much of the sexual harassment that occurs in the world goes unreported, the statistics we know are devastating. According to the World Health Organization, more than one in three women worldwide would experience sexual violence in their lifetime. We know that sexual harassment and violence is mostly directed towards women as in the past twenty years 17.7 million of girls and women in the United States were victims of rape, compared to 2.78 million boys and men.

Shining a Spotlight on Sexual Harassment and Violence

Sexual harassment and violence are a trait of humans as a species — they happen across countries and cultures. There’s no society that can guarantee its members that they’ll be perfectly safe from it. The best countries can do is create a strong legal system that will treat sexual harassment and violence with the severity these types of offenses deserve. But that’s not nearly enough.

The #MeToo movement, which exploded in the United States in 2017, shows just how important it is for survivors of sexual harassment to have a platform that gives them a voice. In the case of this movement, the platform was Twitter. Even though the social network wasn’t where the news about the biggest harassers broke out, it was the place where the whole movement gained momentum.

But it’s not like Twitter is the place where people go only to fight just causes. While Twitter might be a tool for amplification of survivors’ voices, it’s also a tool that’s regularly used to harass people. At best, Twitter is a problematic and unwitting tech helper to the effort to put an end to sexual harassment. Luckily, it’s not the only way tech is being used to make the world a safer place.

Social Platforms for Sexual Harassment and Assault Survivors

It’s not easy to get your bearings after being a victim of a sexual predator. Disorientation, a mixture of strong emotions, a sense of being paralyzed are all normal responses to a situation that involves sexual harassment or assault. People are built differently and react differently to these kinds of situations, but no one could be expected to act perfectly rationally after someone did something awful to them.

Support counts for a lot in those moments. There are several tech platforms that are either up and running or are under development that aim to give survivors of sexual harassment and assault both support and advice. Silent Choir is an online platform that allows survivors to report their experiences using an online form. They can choose to do so anonymously, and they can report events ranging from hostile environment to rape. Survivors also have an option to identify the person who committed the offense by linking to their Facebook profile, and they can also get notifications in case someone else links to the same person.

Callisto is another platform that started out offering a similar service to students of partner colleges. In 2018, the company decided to expand their scope to harassment and assault in a professional setting. Callisto offers survivors the opportunity to choose how they want to report what was done to them. It also offers to counsel survivors and help them understand their options. Just like Silent Choir, most of Callisto’s work is done in a safe way through an online platform.

Bots Against Sexual Harassment at Work

Dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace is doubly difficult. First, there’s the fact that someone is doing something to you against your will, putting you in an uncomfortable situation, or downright assaulting you. But what makes it even worse is that, often enough, people who are harassed at the workplace also have their livelihood threatened. This makes it harder for people to defend themselves, or to report the harassment to HR or their superiors. Especially if the superiors are the harassers.

Help comes in the form of an AI-powered chatbot that allows employees to file an encrypted report they can send to their employer. The chatbot will also engage with the survivor and ask questions that will help narrow down on what happened, who did it, and where. While it might not be the perfect solution to stop workplace harassment, a non-judgmental chatbot is still a great tool that allows survivors to make the most crucial step after being a victim of harassment — to talk about it.

Safety Apps and Wearables

Efforts to help people who survive sexual harassment and assault are admirable. But there’s also the option to use tech tools to prevent the harassment or assault from happening in the first place or at least decrease the likelihood of a successful attempt of harassment or assault.

The app store you can access on your smartphone has plenty of different apps that will help you prevent or defend yourself against harassment or assault in several ways. Watch Over Me is an app that lets you set a timer when you’re feeling unsafe. If you don’t stop the timer before the time runs out, a contact you choose will get an automatic alert. If you shake your phone while Watch Over Me is active, your phone’s alarm and video camera will turn on, and your contact will receive an alert.

Wearables can also help. They serve as personal alarms 2.0, an updated version of a device that produces loud noises to scare off any attackers. Athena, one of the more popular personal protection devices, can be worn on clothing or as a necklace. You can have it on regular mode, where it emits sound after being pressed for three seconds and sends out alerts to your emergency contacts. On silent mode, it only sends out the alert.

We are witnesses every day to the power of tech and how it’s changing the world. It makes it easier to work, stay in touch with friends and family, entertain ourselves, and be creative. These changes are often welcome and much-needed, but the way tech makes us safer is even more important. Sexual harassment and sexual assault are problems that predate digital technologies. They probably predate any other type of technology. And while we’re still far away from seeing a world where sexual harassment and assault are rare occurrences, it’s good to see that people are willing to innovate and find new ways to keep their fellow human beings safe.

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