Snapchat filters can transform your facial features into that of a cartoonish dog’s, or allow you to share pics of your breakfast with friends. But a journalist in India has solicited the technology to help victims of sexual violence share their stories with the world.
On average, there are 92 rapes per day in India, and almost 90 per cent of cases the perpetrator is known to the victim – a relative, neighbour, employer – making it even more difficult for girls and women to speak out.
In a light-bulb moment, Yusuf Omar, mobile editor at the Hindustan Times, decided to use Snapchat while reporting from the Climb Against Sexual Abuse, a charity hike up one thousand steps in the Chamundi Hills near Mysore. After showing sexual assault survivors how Snapchat could superimpose funny features on their faces – disguising their identities – Omar left them alone with his phone to record their stories.
"It wasn't like I was waving a big broadcast camera in their face and lights and a tripod and a boom mic asking them in the most intimidating way to share the most private events of... their entire life," Omar told CBC News. “I wasn’t even part of the process.”
One survivor, concealed by a virtual dragon mask, spoke of being kidnapped in Hyderabad as a five-year-old and taken more than 700km to Mysore, where she was held captive and tortured.
Snapchat could empower more girls and women to speak out against sexual assault – in a country where even politicians often blame the victims. In 2012, government minister Botsa Satyanarayana came under fire after saying a woman who was fatally gang-raped on bus “should have assessed the situation before getting into the bus”.