Users share experiences and responses to harassment at work, school, and in the streets.
As Torontonians continue to speak out against widely reported sexual assaults in public places, a local charity has created a mobile app designed to support and empower people targeted by sexual harassment. On Monday, the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (METRAC) released “Not Your Baby,” a free iPhone app that allows users to discuss and share instances of sexual harassment, as well as possible interventions and responses to unwanted sexual attention.
METRAC communications director Andrea Gunraj told us that the application’s bold title was inspired by responses from over 200 survey participants, whose feedback informed the app’s initial content. “A lot of people said they had a hard time thinking of responses [to harassment] in the moment,” said Gunraj. The app allows users to input details about a situation of harassment, including the place it occurs and the identity of the aggressor. It then generates a list of possible remedies, many of them informed by real experiences from those survey respondents (the survey was conducted by METRAC and other local advocacy groups). New subscribers can also add and share their own experiences and solutions with fellow users.
“When people are harassed,” Gunraj told us, “it’s not just a one-time thing, especially if it’s happening at work or at school.” She hopes that periodic use of the app, which METRAC has developed over the past two years, will initiate conversations about sexual harassment “before they happen, but also during and after they happen.” The app also includes legal definitions of sexual harassment and community resources users can access for more support. METRAC says the initiative is meant to reach “women, young women, LGBTTIQQ2S, and other groups most at risk of sexual and gender-based harassment.”
Stephanie Guthrie, who is organizing this Saturday’s Take Back The Block parties in response to recent sexual assaults, applauds METRAC for creating an online resource to address harassment. “That’s where so much of our social interaction is shifting now,” Guthrie says. She pointed out that, in addition to addressing situations involving strangers, “a lot of the sources of harassment are friends of friends, people who know you through somebody, but don’t know you very well.” (The app’s initial features, however, do not list friends or acquaintances as possible perpetrators of harassment.)
Guthrie herself called the police after being anonymously harassed and threatened on Twitter in July for speaking out against misogyny online. She noted that while police are becoming more savvy about online provocation, investigators and lawmakers “are still ill-equipped to deal with harassment that happens online.”
Police media relations officer Constable Wendy Drummond, who spoke with us by phone, says that online tools are useful in spreading discussions about harassment and other crimes. “The qualifiers for a criminal charge stay the same, regardless of how the offense is committed,” Drummond said. She added that the Toronto police’s increased presence online, particularly using social media, represents “a shift in the way we do policing,” and is allowing the force to “communicate and talk with people we wouldn’t normally reach.”
Gunraj described the app as “another tool that people can use to feel empowered,” rather than a cure-all for sexual harassment. She pointed to work by groups including the White Ribbon Campaign, for encouraging men, who are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of sexual harassment, to talk about the behaviour and its impact. She sees a need for more resources for men, including those “who want to diffuse harassment, who want to say something and don’t know how.”
According to Gunraj, it’s up to communities to initiate the uncomfortable social conversations that can lead to reflection and change. She noted that “the biggest barrier is speaking about it and seeing it as a problem. Too often we accept harassment as a fact of life.”