Updated: March 9, 2020 12:12:11 pm
One out of five Indian women get a call or SMS with sexually inappropriate content, according to Truecaller. While 85 per cent of these women were quick to block the number, just 12 per cent actually report these incidents to authorities, Truecaller managing director Sandeep Patil told indianexpress.com. The company hopes its MakeTheCall campaign will encourage more women to proactively report such calls.
“There’s a certain level of normalisation that has crept in with this problem of sexual harassment via phone calls and SMS and that’s what we want to focus on this year with the ‘MakeTheCall’ campaign. Our earlier campaigns focused on awareness, but the issue is also that women are not reporting these matters, and that’s what we want to change,” Patil told indianexpress.com over a call.
Asked to explain what he means by ‘normalisation’, Patil elaborated that while a significant chunk of women face sexually-loaded or inappropriate calls, a major chunk do not even consider it harassment. For instance, the third edition of the Truecaller report on ‘Understanding the impact of harassment calls and SMS for women in India’, says only 58 per cent of women interviewed considered these calls harassment. Egypt was worse at just 35 per cent.
The Truecaller survey, in its third edition now, was expanded to go beyond the Indian market, adding Brazil, Colombia, Egypt and Kenya. The study is not just based on Truecaller users, but talks to women across the board.
“In India, for the other 42 per cent, it is not even harassment, it didn’t hit that bar. In Egypt, which has one in three women receiving such calls, two-thirds did not consider it as harassment, which is really shocking,” Patil pointed out.
The survey showed that many women just simply block the number, which works well for them, but that still does not solve the problem. “While we say that, yes blocking is the first step and that’s good, we want to encourage women to report these matters to the authorities,” he added.
Asked if Truecaller was planning to include some product features, which could perhaps allow women to tag such numbers as serial harassers, Patil said they are indeed exploring ideas, but that it was not an easy problem to solve.
“The issue with this is that even if an individual harasses five women, that is still a very small number for an algorithm to pick up. So right now, creating a solution specific for this is difficult. What we are thinking about is different colours to showcase spam calls, scam calls and harassment calls in the app,” he said. Spam calls show with a red background in the app at the moment.
He also explained that developing such products was limited because the system depends on machine learning capabilities to tag a number as spam. So, even five or ten instances of a number being reported as a serial harasser would be too small for the algorithm to pick up.
Patil revealed that the company planned to launch a separate initiative specifically for women, which would be a separate app, and bring tools to help with some of the concerns faced by them. However, he did not divulge further details, saying the company was still working on this and would announce it in the coming months.
The survey also showed that many women are afraid to report because they are worried their claims will not be taken seriously and that fear remains true across countries. For example, in Kenya, women get little support from authorities when reporting such incidents of harassment. While only 12 per cent of Indian women reported these calls to authorities, it was the highest among all the countries surveyed.
“There is an extent of normalisation around sexually harassing calls, which no one has expected. Because of this normalisation, women are afraid to take action, which will impact the wider ecosystem and this just ends up emboldening the offenders. We are hoping to empower women to report such issues with our campaign, which will also make the ecosystem safer as a whole,” he said.
Key stats from Truecaller’s report on sexual harassment in India and other countries in 2019
📞 In India, 1 out of 5 women receive sexual and inappropriate calls
📞 76 per cent of such calls that women face are from unknown sources. Only about 4 per cent of all the sexual harassment calls/SMS are from known acquaintances.
📞 67 per cent of women in India reported irritation with these calls, 60 per cent anger, 29 per cent of them were worried, 29 per cent were troubled and 21 per cent reported feeling fear.
📞 The most affected cities in India are: Chennai, New Delhi, Pune and Kolkata.
📞 7 out of 10 women in India take action against harassment calls, which is the highest rate of women taking action against harassment calls in comparison to other countries surveyed.
📞 85 per cent of them blocked the number but only 12 per cent of them reported the number to the authorities.
📞 In Brazil, Egypt, and Kenya, nine out of 10 women received harassment and nuisance calls.
📞 In Brazil (27 per cent) and Kenya (47 per cent) the calls are actually being made by prison inmates who harass women.
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