An example of a Safecity mural, with the words, "I will not hide."
An example of a Safecity mural, with the words, "I will not hide."


By Alexandra Knapp, Intern, Engagement Team 

In 2012, 23-year-old Jyoti Singh was gang raped and murdered on a bus in New Delhi. Motivated by this tragic event, ElsaMarie D’Silva created Safecity, a crowd map for capturing, tracking, and analyzing incidents of gender-based violence.

D’Silva noted that extreme underreporting was minimizing the severity of gender-based violence, and therefore little was being done to protect individuals from harm. The Red Dot Foundation’s Safecity platform crowdsources stories of sexual abuse in public spaces, aggregating anonymous data that highlights hot spots and indicates local-level trends. In India, where the initiative began, this created a dataset that did not previously exist, and illuminated the pervasive nature of this type of violence – because, as D’Silva said, “if you don’t know what you’re solving for, you’re essentially operating in the dark.” 

Since their launch in 2012, Safecity has collected over 50,000 unique reports, trained 250,000 people on the use of the platform, gained five police partners, and recruited 3,500 youth leaders around the world. They currently have chapters in 17 countries, where local partners are utilizing the app’s data to strengthen existing laws and develop effective strategies for violence prevention. More than 90% of respondents on the app have said that they have not gone and will not go to the police with their report, thus the data collected on the platform offers unique insights that institutions lack. Beyond being a data collection tool, the platform encourages survivors to find solidarity, provides communities with information to help them mobilize for solutions, and gives local decision makers actionable information that can be used to create safe spaces. 

The Red Dot Foundation won the 2022 World Justice Challenge Equal Rights and Non-Discrimination Prize for the Safecity platform. Since then, they have added ten new country partnerships and seen 10,000 new reports over the past year. WJP caught up with Red Dot Foundation on this progress and more in a recent webinar with D’Silva and Safecity partners from Brazil, Kenya, and the Philippines who are using the platform to counter gender-based violence in their communities. The conversation highlighted the diverse ways that Safecity data can be used to drive positive change. 

In Brazil, local partners found that gender-based violence is often the result of harmful social norms. To respond, they launched the Safe Bars Campaign this year during Brazil’s Carnival - a week-long party in the streets, clubs, and bars that is typically perceived as an event with “no rules.” At the carnival in the city of Belo Horizonte, local groups distributed more than 4,000 Safecity stickers informing the millions of attendees about the platform and worked with 15 bars and restaurants to place Safecity posters in their bathrooms. Distributing these materials was meant to encourage use of the app and counter social perceptions that sexual abuse would be tolerated during the festival. According to Red Dot Foundation’s Camila Gomide, the carnival at Belo Horizonte was considered one of the safest in the country with the lowest rate of sexual harassment.   

The Safecity team also highlighted their work with the Angat Bayi program in the Philippines. Angat Bayi uses Safecity data to work with local government and community actors to promote social inclusion and protection of women and children. Safecity data allows the organization to conduct focused analysis and problem solving about gender-based violence that is tailored to the needs of the communities they work with, and to train community members to help develop targeted solutions.  

Liezel Lectura, who coordinates the partnership between Safecity and Angat Bayi, told WJP that she sees Safecity as a movement-building tool.  

The work that Safecity does with partners varies depending on local context, something demonstrated in their work with partners in Kenya. Seeking a way to organize and utilize data about gender-based violence in Kibera, Kenya, Polycom Development Project Executive Director and CEO, Jane Anyango, began working with Safecity almost 10 years ago. Anyango and community members translated the data collection format from Safecity into a low-tech format, using notebooks to create graphical representations about sexual harassment that they shared throughout the community. From local feedback, Anyango learned just how pervasive and widespread sexual harassment was in her community.  

“Mapping sexual harassment is about preventing sexual violence,” Anyango said. Efforts like those spearheaded by Anyango are essential for destigmatizing gender-based violence for survivors.   

“Engagement of communities tells them they are not alone,” D’Silva said. “As a survivor, it is not your fault.”  

Today, Polycom continues to use data from Safecity to prove that gender-based violence happens in public spaces, expanding the legal parameters of sexual harassment in Kenyan law. They produced a report that will help their county assembly develop evidence-based policy on sexual harassment. 

Moving forward, the Red Dot Foundation is working to continue supporting the rapid growth of Safecity partnerships around the world so that local efforts can thrive. The data collected through the platform is versatile, providing actionable insights at a local level that are informative for a range of stakeholders. To combat and prevent gender-based violence globally, Safecity turns to the community, both to gain information and to inspire change.


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