How Technology is Fighting Sexual Harassment in India

Technology has been known to facilitate anonymous harassment online, but in India a non-profit organization is using mobile apps to fight harassment on the streets. I came across Safecity in my Mobile Phones for International Development course, and since I plan to return to India and pursue my career in promoting gender equality, the case study of Safecity reducing gender-based violence (GBV) caught my attention.

How Safecity Works
Safecity is a non-profit organization in India that offers a platform for individuals to anonymously share their stories of sexual violence or abuse. This crowdsourced self-reported data is then displayed on a map of India to show hot spots and patterns of violence in various parts of the country. Safecity collects this data through its website, social media platforms, and via email, text or phone to increases awareness of the various kinds of GBV, ranging from catcalling to groping to rape. It also allows Indian individuals, law enforcement agencies, neighborhoods, businesses, and the society at large to access this data and to use it to take precautions and devise solutions.

Safecity reports
Safecity reports

Why Safecity Works
As one of the founders of Safecity put it, the three main reasons that rape and other sexual harassments are underreported in India is because people are afraid to report it, the police manipulate the data, or because victims are deterred by the delayed justice system. This, along with the cultural stigma attached to talking about sexual harassments, makes anonymity for victims very important. Allowing for anonymous reporting, Safecity has collected over 4000 stories from over 50 cities in India and Nepal since it launched in December 2012.

How Safecity is Using Mobile Apps
Along with collecting and visualizing data, Safecity promotes a variety of phone applications to help sexual minorities feel safe in public spaces:

GeoSure (provides personalized travel safety content via mobile)
Nirbhaya: Be Fearless (emergency app that sends a distress call or emergency message to a specified contact or group)
SafeTrac (allows automatic monitoring and tracking of your journey)

Safecity also promotes services like Taxshe, a safe all-female driver service, and KravMaga Chennai, a self-defense teaching service.

Challenges and Looking Ahead
As with many ICT4D solutions, access to the technology remains an important barrier. Safecity and its advertised applications, products and services seem to only reach a very specific target audience (urban populations with access to modern technology), leaving behind illiterate populations from rural areas with no access to technology. With their missed dial facility, Safecity is hoping to reach out to women with limited access to technology by recording their reports of abuse and harassment over the phone and suggesting appropriate interventions.

I look forward to seeing how Safecity uses this form of community engagement and crowdsourced data to not just report, but reduce GBV in India. This course introduced me to a new and unique way to address the pervasive issue of GBV in India and I look forward to utilizing the tools and lessons learned in making India a gender equitable country one step at a time.

Interested in learning about other ways mobile tools are helping communities address different problems? Join us in our upcoming Mobiles for International Development online course that begins on May 11.

Author Bio

Nikita Setia Headshot

Nikita Setia is a M.A. candidate at the Elliott School of International Affairs in the International Affairs Program, concentrating in development. She previously earned her B.B.A in Economics, International Business, and Management at Northwood University in Midland, Michigan.


  • Erin K Fletcher

    Thanks for this article. I’m glad that people are thinking about this issue, but I’d like to offer some alternative ways to think about the problem (and subsequently, the problem you may be creating through such an app). As someone who has studied sexual assault and discrimination against women, I worry about how these apps are used for a few reasons.
    1. My first concern is that by broadcasting “safe” and “unsafe” areas, you may normalize sexual assault. If one area is particularly dangerous, perhaps other men will feel it’s okay to assault women there, or parents/husbands/other male authority figures won’t “allow” women to go to those areas. This won’t really work to engender more safety, but rather more fear and stigma.
    2.As you mentioned, the user base also creates a problem in identifying hot spots. If you’re actually just identifying places where people with expensive technology congregate, you’re not actually adding any information and may actually be doing harm (see 1).
    3. You could encourage people to avoid certain areas or be more careful in certain areas, even though the problems may not actually be the worst there, more stigma, etc.
    4. Alternatively, you could be encouraging less caution in areas (or times of day?) that may actually be more dangerous.
    5. Finally, what do you actually expect to happen with this information? Is information power and women will rise up to demand better treatment? Will men see this and feel ashamed and change their behavior? Will police respond more effectively to the assault (police are a large part of the problem in India with many stories of revictimization coming out of trying to report rape and assault).
    Again, I’m really glad that people are thinking about these issues and how to use technology to support women’s safety. I don’t think has hit on the answer yet and I hope that we can continue to think about how we can change behaviors, attitudes, and norms to ensure that women are free to move about safely and securely in all parts of the world.

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  • kanishk

    A great analysis Erin. Being a lawyer. I think that one of the most prominant stigma which hinder Indian women to report sexual assault or henious crimes like rape etc. are due to two factors
    1. The social stigma
    2. Lackadistical attitude of police and slow justice system

    The latter has still been rectified in past 2 years by forming women courts and expediting the trial process for offences related to women but still we are a huge leap away from a prompt and active police/judicial system. However, the former still plays a very vital n crucial role in non-reprting of such incidents especially in Tier-II or Tier-III cities. Even if a daughter or wife or gf or sister wants to report such incidents they face great resiliance from the male of their families. Also, in small cities these kind of news spread like wildfire and even the victims are afraid of getting thier reputation tarnished in the society.

    As per my view instead of concentrating only on making women of the society sensitize about the issue we should focus more on sensitizing the male of the families and the offending male society as not to indulge in such acts and if any of thier known female has encountered such act then support her in each and every manner.

    Lastly, I also think that laws related to purgery need to be strict in India because a women centric/protection law is made in India to protect women but instead these laws are protecting only 30-40% of genuine cases and is being misused by some women to armstrong into money or dispute settlement. Even if it is proved in courts that these allegations are false and women are confronted with contradicting evidence still no action is taken. Concentrating on a problem from one side would never solve the purpose there are always two sides to a coin. We need to cater to both.