Victims of sexual harassment in public spaces in Lebanon can now alert others using a website called “Harass Tracker”, which was launched by three young Lebanese women last February. By giving a voice to both victims and witnesses, the founders wanted to increase public awareness about sexual harassment in a society that still considers it taboo to talk about.
There have been quite a number of articles and investigations documenting the sexual abuses experienced by Syrian refugees and foreign domestic workers in Lebanon. However, people rarely talk about the sexual harassment experienced by Lebanese women in public spaces on a daily basis.
Last February, three young women, Nay el-Rahi, Sandra Hassan and Myra el-Mir, decided to launch the “Harass Tracker” website to document sexual abuse and street harassment. “Harass Tracker” quickly proved how much of an issue this really is: an average of 50 women report cases of harassment on the site each day. Their experiences vary widely – from being inappropriately touched or having their butts slapped, to being whistled at or seeing a man masturbate in public.
“Women aren’t necessarily aware of the fact that sexual harassment can take different forms”
The idea behind our website is really simple. First, anyone who has been victim to or a witness of sexual harassment can mark on a map where the incident occurred. Next, the user chooses whether or not he or she wants to remain anonymous. Then, the user specifies if he or she was a victim or a witness – it’s important to remember that men can be victims of harassment, too. Finally, the user selects what type of abuse occurred. Then, they are free to write an account of what happened.
We launched this website as a way to collect information about sexual harassment. Up until now, there have been very few numbers available about this topic. I think one reason is because people don’t like talking about it. Moreover, our society has a tendency to downplay the issue, which is an entirely different problem. We hope to use the numbers we gather to raise awareness about this issue both among everyday citizens and politicians alike.
The other issue is that people still don’t know exactly what falls into the category of sexual harassment. For example, I’ve heard women say, “Someone said this or that to me in the street, but is that really sexual harassment?”
On our site, we try to show that sexual harassment can take on many different forms. It can be a little comment that is inappropriate, a gesture with a sexual connotation, or something more sinister like inappropriate touching or threats or stalking. By giving the user the possibility of selecting from these many different forms, we hope to open their eyes to the fact that these are all forms of sexual harassment.
On “Harass Tracker”, users who want to report an incident are given a choice of different types of sexual harassment.
“There are no safe spaces”
Technology plays an important role in this project, because people can express themselves anonymously online. With smartphones, people are able to flag up harassment almost instantly.
By looking at the information we’ve received up to this point, we’ve been able to see that sexual harassment can happen anywhere. Contrary to what one might expect, sexual harassment occurs in wealthy neighbourhoods just as it does in poor neighborhoods. There are no safe spaces.
However, we have noticed that places that don’t have adequate street lights are often much more dangerous. This kind of information could be very useful to officials.
Since launching the site, we’ve gotten invitations to speak at different universities and on television. That’s great because it means we can inform people about the issue.
We think that sexual harassment should be punishable by law, even though that won’t solve everything. We believe that it is most important to raise awareness about the issue, especially in schools.
An estimated 61 percent of Lebanese women have experienced street harassment, according to a study published in 2010 by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR).
In 2010, three women in Egypt founded a similar website, called “Harass Map”, which also allows people to report instances of street harassment.