User Submissions for Sexual Harassment App Strengthen a Movement of Resistance

The recent proliferation of education, resources, and campaigns to fight sexual harassment around the world speaks to cultural shifts in the perception of interpersonal interactions.  This critical moment of social breaching exposes problematic gender norms and expectations not only for those directly involved in cases of harassment, but also for those participating in the discourse.  As sexual harassment has become increasingly visible, so have the factions surrounding the issue; many champion the efforts to push back against a grave societal problem, while others attempt to minimize its seriousness and disparage affected individuals.  In designing technology for the cause, this popular divide presents challenges concerning efficacy, ease of access, and discretion, all of which are addressed by Not Your Baby, a mobile application from the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (METRAC) first released in 2012.

Not Your Baby (METRAC, 2013) operates on a simple premise: it enables targets of sexual harassment to access responses and other information tailored to the incident at hand.  Users select from a list of instigators (e.g. co-worker, teacher, acquaintance) and a list of places (e.g. work, school, public transit) to generate context-based tips for reacting to the scenario.  The app also includes information about how to help a friend, relevant laws, resources, factoids, definitions, and stories to foster a sense of support and solidarity.

As a technological tool for social justice, Not Your Baby (METRAC, 2013) promotes agency and capability among those affected by providing a platform to share their own solutions (Light & Luckin, 2008, p. 8).  The tips and stories are created by user submissions as well as the results of an online survey on sexual harassment experiences conducted by METRAC (Research Summary, 2011).  Though the survey was a key component in creating the app (Gunraj, 2012) and its responses were included in the final design, this limited extent of user input in development does not meet the criteria for participatory design as defined by Light and Luckin (2008, p. 22).  However, the inclusion of authentic survey responses and the users’ ability to contribute to the pool of tips and stories reflect the app’s inherent qualities of user-centered design (Light & Luckin, 2008, p. 19).

The simple interface and intuitive navigation of Not Your Baby (METRAC, 2013) make it easy to use for the average English-speaking smartphone owner, and it is available for free download on both Android and iPhone.  Unfortunately, this presents a barrier to use for those who cannot afford a smartphone and therefore, problematically, excludes their voices from the pool of tips and stories.  The needs and experiences unique to the most marginalized communities are underrepresented in the app’s resources because this demographic may be unable to access it in the first place (and they deserve it as much as–if not more than–those of different socioeconomic status).

Discretion is another important concern for a resource of this nature.  Unlike many other apps, Not Your Baby (METRAC, 2013) lacks the option to connect with users’ social media accounts.  Additionally, users are not required to share their name or location when submitting personal stories and situational tips.  Both features reflect consideration for the self-regulation caused by our social surveillance culture (Marwick, 2012, p. 384).  Users are aware of the sensitivity of such information and would likely not wish to share their harassment stories with their entire social network.

Overall, as a means of combatting sexual harassment in everyday situations, Not Your Baby (METRAC, 2013) accomplishes its goal of providing quick and effective responses through community-based input.  However, it is important to consider that while the app may serve as a helpful tool to empower its users, it inadvertently expands the knowledge gap already faced by impoverished individuals who lack access (Donner, 2008, p. 36).  Structural shortcomings aside, the app’s user-centered design protects the anonymity of users who may be connected to their harassers on social media, or may simply wish to avoid the backlash that often comes with identifying as the target of this controversial behavior.

Sources

Donner, J. (2008). Shrinking Fourth World? Mobiles, Development, and Inclusion. In Handbook of Mobile Communication Studies (pp. 35-37). Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Fazlalizadeh, T. (2014, November 10). Is saying hello sexual harassment? Reuters. [hyperlinked]. Retrieved March 8, 2015, from http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2014/11/10/is-saying-hello-sexual-harassment/

Gunraj, A. (2012, September 10). “Not Your Baby” iPhone app helps users deal with sexual harassment. Retrieved March 2, 2015, from http://www.ihollaback.org/blog/2012/09/10/not-your-baby-iphone-app-helps-users-deal-with-sexual-harassment/

Light, A., & Luckin, R. (2008, October). Designing for social justice: People, technology, learning. Retrieved March 2, 2015, from http://archive.futurelab.org.uk/resources/publications-reports-articles/opening-education-reports/Opening-Education-Report1128

Marwick, A. (2012). The Public Domain: Surveillance in Everyday Life. Surveillance & Society, 9(4), 384-385.

Not Your Baby. (2013). Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children [METRAC] (Version 1.2.1) [Mobile application software]. Retrieved from https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/not-your-baby/id545191859?mt=8

Research Summary: Survey on Responses to Sexual Harassment. (2011, February). Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children. [hyperlinked]. Retrieved March 2, 2015, from http://www.metrac.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/research.summary.sexual.harassment.survey.feb11.pdf

Sexual Harassment Common, Little Recourse. (n.d.). Southern Poverty Law Center. [hyperlinked]. Retrieved March 8, 2015, from http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/publications/unsafe-at-these-speeds/worker-safety-a-low-priority/sexual-harassment-common-little-recourse

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One thought on “User Submissions for Sexual Harassment App Strengthen a Movement of Resistance

  1. I am happy that you chose to cover Not Your Baby in your digital essay – I was hoping someone would talk about street harassment and privacy rights for women and LGBTQ individuals (I wrote about Hollaback!). I agree with you on the fact that the app does aim to help victims who have been targeted through street harassment in terms of boosting confidence or finding resolutions for themselves, but I feel like it is way too simple of an app. I downloaded it myself because I fall victim to the hoots, hollers, and unwarranted touches and would love to figure out some super cool retorts, but it just does not give enough information for me. However, sexual harassment is something that does not get talked about enough, and I appreciate the makers of the app for trying to make more awareness.

    Have you checked out Hollaback!? They also have a web component (with the app), which is what Not Your Baby is missing. We don’t seem to know enough about them and what they are aiming to do beyond just raising awareness. What you said about the structural design was on point, and I believe that a web component would serve a little bit more of the people they are trying to target to support and use their app. Also, the design is just all out-of-whack but simple and easy enough to navigate.
    Though it sounds like I’m ragging on the app, I really do believe that apps like this create steps of progress. I hope that there are plenty of more apps like Not Your Baby that give different takes on how to stop street harassment.

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