Companion: an ally against street harassment

Traditionally, women have occupied the private sphere (the house) and men the public sphere (the street, work, institutions and everything else), becoming them intruders within the public space. The streets or public transport are places that belong to us all, but not everyone can feel equally safe in them. Whistles, beeps from the car, sexual comments, intimidating approaches, persecutions ... All these concepts are manifestations of an inequality that marks our day to day and from which we can not detach either in the street. On a political and social level street harassment is not recognized as another form of violence against women or as a reaffirmation of power, but is perceived as an irremediable expression of "masculinity." To raise awareness about this problem and improve our quality of life (street) tools such as Companion, an app that we have thoroughly tested for a week.

In Spain, sexual harassment is an experience that has suffered a woman of every two older than 15 years, according to general data of the Agency for Fundamental Rights of the European Union (FRA). If we get into the field of street harassment, it is impossible to quantify the magnitude of the problem: it is normalized and is seen as a specificity of certain cultures or regions, rather than a global problem that hides under friendly terms. How exaggerated!

Street harassment, in data

In “Stop Street Harassment. Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women ”, Holly Kearl throws a series of data extracted from her years of study in which she states that 80% of 811 women interviewed have to remain on constant alert When they walk down the street. 50% have to cross the sidewalk and look for alternative routes to their destinations. 45% feel that they cannot go to public places alone and 26% lie about having a partner so that the stalkers leave her alone. 19% have 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 and without official regulation.

According to this global street harassment survey by Actionaid, 80% of women say they have felt fear coming home alone. In Argentina, 100% of respondents say they have experienced street harassment; 87% of participating Australian women have been verbally or physically attacked on the street, and 100% of the more than 600 French respondents have suffered sexual harassment in public places. It is not necessary to go to a country that we consider dangerous: it is enough not to look away from day to day.

YouGov carried out the most extensive study on harassment in public transport in 2014. They surveyed people from 16 cities around the world and ranked the safest systems (New York) to the least secure (Bogotá). As for the experiences of verbal harassment, the five worst cities turned out to be Mexico, Delhi, Bogotá, Lima and Jakarta; and regarding the experiences of physical harassment, the worst were Mexico, Bogotá, Lima, Tokyo and Delhi.

As a curious fact: Belgium imposes specific penalties for verbal harassment since 2014. Until September 2015, 85 fines were accounted for, and the penalties were incorporated after the premiere of the film Femme de la Rue, a story by Sofie Peeters about how verbal harassment is lived in the streets of Brussels.

In Spain there are no statistics that draw the situation: on the website of the Ministry of Equality you can only find data on sexual assaults as a whole, and the last update is from 2013. That year, in our country there were 7,057 women victims of crime sexual. Or rather: there were 7,057 women who reported sexual assaults, although they are not all that they are, and it is impossible to shred the statistics with street harassment that does not commit a physical aggression typified by the laws. No body counts whistles, honks, intimidating approaches, badly called compliments, lascivious or defiant looks, the conversations you don't want to keep, the “smile, woman”, the groping, the exhibitionists, the persecutions, the public masturbation , genital pressure on our bodies in crowded places ... But they are there. And one more time, women themselves and their citizen initiatives are addressing those needs better than public bodies or law enforcement.

Companion: for a safe public space

Companion It is a free app designed by five students from the University of Michigan, designed to make girls feel safer on university campuses. I read about it a long time ago and decided to try it for a week on my return home, especially during a journey between polygons that worries me about the absence of people. I was clear that this app was not going to take away my fear of walking alone at night: that feeling arises from a system, it is much more complex to correct and implies the reeducation of other actors that escape my control, but tools like this arise to Give us a safety injection. They do not solve the problem of street harassment, because that task is the responsibility of men and society as a whole, but help citizen awareness and they alleviate a little that feeling of impunity in the face of this macho typology.

The first thing to do after downloading the app (free on any operating system) is to enter name, country and phone number. With this data, the application is ready. The first day of the test, when leaving the subway, the app geolocated me and I was able to mark my house as a destination. It generated a distance and an approximate number of minutes that it would take to travel, as with Maps or Citymapper. Then I chose a name from my contact list to be my virtual companion. My friend Irina, who did not have the app installed, received a notification asking if she wanted to accompany me home. When he accepted, I received a confirmation SMS (which left no trace on his bill or mine), his initials appeared on the screen in a bubble similar to those of Facebook Messenger and I started the tour. Halfway, I pressed the button "I'm nervous", and my friend again received a message in which a map was attached with the exact point where I was. "Laura is nervous, can you contact her?" With that link, our "companions" can see where we are. Upon arriving home, I marked my journey as finished and my friend received a message confirming that she had arrived safe and sound.

In addition to this personalized follow-up by those of us who decide, Companion includes some features that reinforce our control and that I could test in that week of use: if I started running, moving violently, or abruptly pulling off the phone's headphones, The app took it as a sign that I was having a problem and sent me a message to know if it was ok. If in 15 seconds he did not respond, the app understood that he was suffering some kind of aggression and issued a series of sounds to scare off the aggressor or alert citizens who might be nearby. He also told the contacts that they "watched" me and offered me the possibility to call the police directly with a single touch via direct button.

The pros Companion's are obvious: it allows us to walk a little safer down the street, although I can never eliminate the feeling of panic; its simple existence can create social awareness, and word of mouth could translate into greater mobilization for the recovery of our security in public space. We like to dream.

The cons (in addition to the questionable translation) they are more technical: some women have had problems with the generation of maps, and others have experienced failures in the connection with their virtual companions. Personally, from Madrid I have not had any problem with it, although possibly in more rural or less well-communicated areas it is more difficult to geolocate. If any test: patience. The tool is only one year old and its functionalities will improve. And if what we were afraid of was that he could become a constant vigilant at any exit to the street, after closing the app we will not receive any notification from him. We will only open it when we want to use it.

To better understand its usefulness, Companion could have served in cases such as Diana Quer, the missing girl in A Coruña on August 12, to alert her relatives or friends faster that something was wrong. The use of this app would have directly affected a key factor in your case: time. By the time she had stopped responding to the application's attention calls, she would have sent messages to her virtual companions, 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 cannot end the root of the problem as quickly as we would like, at least we can try to defend ourselves.

New answers to old problems

Companion joins other security related tools such as the initiative Hollaback, set in motion for women to point out the “black spots” of each city, collectively locating street harassment through citizen complaints. He was born in New York in 2005 and has spread to more than 90 cities around the world, including Barcelona. His slogan: "Bullying is the true motivation of the stalker. What if there was a way to take away that power by exposing it?" This app allows victims and witnesses to explain, if they wish, what the aggression has been and even upload a photo of the stalker.

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

In the United States, the cases of violations perpetrated by some Uber drivers and the reaction of the Chief of Police ("they should create a network of friends to avoid this") caused Stella Mateo to found SheTaxis, a taxi company for women driven by women. In Spain, Blablacar It already includes the possibility of organizing trips only among women.

Technology and education

The consequences of street harassment in women who suffer, as Patricia Gaytan cites in Sexual harassment in public places: a study from the Grounded TheoryThey are "the feeling of loss of control, the decrease in self-esteem, distortions in the cognitive assessment of the experiences of harassment and an increase in self-insecurity as well as distrust of unknown men in general." It is necessary to educate the youngest in equality to avoid replicating any violence against women.

Technology plays a fundamental role in the prevention of bullying and is already beginning to be implemented in some centers as an educational tool for equality. It is true that in this process of digital adaptation, mobile devices are increasingly used to exert violence, but they also serve to defend against it or report it. Women have adopted the use of the telephone as a form of organization: they are a great tool to facilitate networking, build bonds, generate links ... And both they and they, from a very young age, can mess with apps like Enrédate sin machismo, where They can know the stereotypes of romantic love and avoid situations of a dominant relationship while they play.

Last April the International Week Against Street Harassment was celebrated in 37 cities around the world, among which there was no Spanish. These days, stories, analysis and activities related to this form of violence were published to educate, sensitize and eradicate the idea that sexual harassment in public spaces is part of folklore and typical of specific countries. If the most serious, such as sexist murders or rapes, seem to us deplorable attitudes to all, we also have to know how to identify previous symptoms and attitudes that foster and promote this inequality of power. Going outside is not giving our bodies in public auction.

Video: WOW. .Anti-Vaxxer Harassment Campaign Gets Weird, KSI vs Logan Paul Sputters, BTS Still King, & Iran (February 2020).