The viral #MeToo campaign has shed light on the magnitude of sexual harassment that almost every woman silently endures at some point in her life. Serious abuse aside, the tedious catcalling, the casual groping, the unreciprocated flirting, are all subtle acts of molestation that often remain untold; silenced by the incapacity of society to categorise – or at least acknowledge them. Too subtle to be reported to the police but not enough to be fully forgotten, the unwanted sexual attention many women experience on a daily basis often ends up in a limbo of forced acceptance.
The social media movement, if anything, gave voice to the attenuated injustices that an oblivious society has avoided for way too long. The hashtag became a container for the thousands of cases in which women didn’t know who to talk to when a passerby nonchalantly exposes his penis, or how to process that time when a stranger grabbed their butt, only to then walk away unpunished. But while sharing such stories on Twitter and other platforms has served to canalise these experiences into a worldwide movement, it still doesn’t offer a solution to how women should, or at least could, act when exposed to such harassment.
In order to fill the gap, the city of Rotterdam has recently launched an app that allows anyone to anonymously report sexual harassment that might not require the intervention of the police, by inserting the location and the relevant information into the platform. The app doesn’t aim to provide an immediate response to the harassment, but enables the council to have an overview of the breadth and detail of the cases, so intervention can take place in the areas that show recurrent patterns.
The functionality of the app aside, such a platform holds a very symbolic role in the discourse. One of the aggravating elements of the day to day harassment is triggered by the sense of disempowerment felt by the victim in the aftermath of the event. It could be extremely frustrating to be subjected to mild abuse knowing that the person who performed the act has walked away without facing any consequences. Many women will confirm the feeling of powerlessness that hit them after falling victim to abuse: the sense of not having promptly reacted to the provocation; of not having screamed or called the police.
The absence of justice can be more harmful than the experience itself and having the possibility to report it – even if just through an app – can help overcome the shame and voicelessness often felt by a victim of sexual harassment. Regardless of the severity of the abuse, the agency of reacting can help recoup the immediate shock that being harassed inevitably brings to a person.