Via Snapchat, Indian women break the silence on rape

A young woman, who survived a rape, told her story using a Snapchat filter in order to conceal her identity. Screen grab from the video below.
A young woman, who survived a rape, told her story using a Snapchat filter in order to conceal her identity. Screen grab from the video below.


In India, most victims of rape don't dare discuss their ordeal or go to the authorities, fearing reprisals or worrying they will dishonour their families. To allow them to speak without fear, an Indian journalist recorded their accounts using Snapchat, a mobile application that includes filters to hide a user's face.

Yusuf Omar, mobile editions editor at the daily Hindustan Times, collected the stories of female rape victims at an event organised by the international NGO Climb Against Sexual Abuse in Mysore, in the southern state of Karnataka, in late June. He recently published some of these accounts on the paper's Facebook page.

In this video, two young women recount their experiences, their faces covered by one of the filters offered by Snapchat. Only their eyes are visible. "I was five years old when it happened," says the first woman, who speaks in English. "Someone kidnapped me from Hyderabad [Editor's note: the capital of Telangana state] to Mysore and locked me in a room. They tortured me at home and never let me go out," recounts the second, also in English.

"A rape happens every 22 minutes in India [Editor's note: This is the official number, corresponding with the number of registered complaints]. We have survivors who have been through sexual trafficking, who have been through acid attacks," explains Poonam Thimmaiah, cofounder of Climb Against Sexual Abuse, in the video.

"Rape victims can be sure of their anonymity when they use Snapchat's face-masking filters"

Omar, 27, explains why he used Snapchat to gather the testimony of these victims. (His Snapchat account is YUSUFOMARSA)

According to Indian law, it's illegal to reveal the identity of rape victims, for instance by showing their faces. The goal is to protect them, so that they don't end up being persecuted within their communities. But as a consequence, I think we also talk about the problem of rape less than we should.

So I was thinking about a way to hide their faces, while letting their emotions come through. I also wanted it to be a bit creative, so that they weren't just blurred. Then I thought of Snapchat, because the application includes filters that allow you to hide faces.

Example of another filter that can be used to conceal one's face on Snapchat. Video produced by Yusuf Omar.

The girls who are shown with masks in the video are both minors. They were kidnapped, tortured and raped over several days. They knew about selfies and knew what Snapchat looked like, but they'd never used it. So I showed them how it works, the filters that are available...Then I stepped back and let them do it on their own.

Both of them chose the dragonhead filter. This filter hides the face completely, but enlarges the eyes. Then they recorded themselves, holding the phone in front of their faces. Doing this, they knew they would stay anonymous, which reassured them. After filming themselves, they seemed a bit shaken. I think it was hard for them to recount what they'd lived through.

In India, rapes are often committed by relatives, and victims are frequently repudiated by their families. The ones who manage to survive all this have to figure out how to live on their own, find work... Rape remains a taboo subject, when instead we ought to be talking about it more, so that those responsible be held to account.

The gang rape of a student on a New Delhi bus in December 2012, and her subsequent death, caused an unprecedented wave of protests. The law against sexual assault was stiffened, with the introduction of the death penalty in the most serious cases. But marital rape is still not considered a crime, and sordid cases continue to crop up very frequently in the media.

Experts believe, however, that rapes are not actually increasing in number. Rather, they are being reported to the police at a higher rate than before, and thus drawing more media attention.