snapchat filters let sexual assault survivors share their stories anonymously

An Indian news channel's coverage of the Climb Against Sexual Abuse used Snapchat to let young women regain control over the narrative.

Jul 11 2016, 9:45pm

Hindustan Times

Snapchat filters generally only make the news when they create a blackfacewhitewashing, or slut-shaming scandal, but an Indian news channel is using the face-mapping technology in a very honorable, very awesome way. Hindustan Times recently covered the country's first Climb Against Sexual Abuse in Mysore, and used Snapchat to allow survivors to share their stories without revealing their identity. In India, as the Hindustan Times video notes, the sexual assault statistics are disturbing. A rape happens every 22 minutes, the majority of survivors are children or teenagers, and in most cases it's immediate family members who are committing the crimes. Consequently, it's very difficult for victims to speak out. 

The Climb Against Sexual Abuse — which saw 50 young people climb Mysore's Chamundi Hills as a metaphor for overcoming the stigma surrounding assault — was documented on Snapchat by mobile editor Yusuf Omar, who told that Snapchat made it easy for his subjects to trust him. "I thought there must be a more accessible way to disguise someone's face using new technology, and Snapchat was just that," he said. "Recording with a mask gave them the sense of legitimacy and security that I wasn't going to be able to show their face, as opposed to trusting a journalist saying 'yes, we will blur you afterwards', so they felt empowered and in control of the narrative."

Omar said that the women he spoke to were allowed to choose their own filters, and he saw a poignant symbolic meaning in the popularity of the dragon one. "Using the inside camera, they felt like they were looking in a mirror," he said. "Eyes are the window to the soul, and this particular dragon filter actually exaggerated them, and we could still clearly see their expressions. Stigma around sexual violence is such a big issue, especially in India where women are frequently accused of lying, and now you get to see a young woman tell her story for herself, but with all of her emotions."

Social media is often criticized for allowing people to hide behind a screen, but when it comes to sharing stories of sexual assault in countries where speaking of sex is taboo, this can be empowering in a very positive way. Omar thinks Snapchat, and other tools that allow users to enhance the content they share with the world, can also facilitate an emotional connection that language often can't. "Everyone keeps thinking of Snapchat as a discovery tool, desperately trying to figure out how to get more followers," he said. "But very few people are realizing that this is a powerful content creation tool with all the ingredients that digital natives love, whether it is the ability to add filters, put text at the bottom for auto-play videos, or add emojis that convey emotions that we can't sum up in words." 


Text Hannah Ongley
Image via Hindustan Times