Women in London are being asked to pinpoint the location of incidents of rape or sexual assault in order to create a visual overview of the scale of these crimes in the city.
The initiative, entitled #WEcount, comes from the Women’s Equality Party, a new U.K. political party which was formed in March last year. The campaign asks women who have experienced rape or sexual assault to place a pin on a live map with the date and time it occurred. The idea is to build a comprehensive picture of the problem and to illustrate how common attacks are. Victims are also asked to take a photo of their hand with the location of the incident and post it on Twitter, using the hashtag #WEcount.
On the map, Google’s usual pin is changed to an exclamation mark and the message, "It happened here" appears. The move comes ahead of the Million Women Rise march, a protest against male violence towards women and children, which is happening across London and internationally on Saturday, 5 March.
Alongside the map, the campaign, which was created by agency Cheil London, is a short film of rape survivor Pavan Amara who recounts how she built the My Body Back project to help women who have been assaulted reclaim their lives.
Cheil London executive creative director, Caitlin Ryan, explains the thinking behind the campaign, "The idea came about because we wanted women to feel empowered to make their own mark on a map of London as way of reclaiming the streets," she says. "We live in a visual age and taking the iconic Google drop pin and turning it into an exclamation mark was a way of saying, ‘Reclaim your streets and find your voice.’"
In 2015, 4,000 rapes were reported in London as well as 70,000 incidents of domestic violence, according to the Metropolitan Police Service. However, thousands of assaults go unreported and women in London, like so many other cities worldwide, experience unwanted sexual behaviour on a daily basis.
Ryan hopes the campaign, and the familiarity of the tools it uses, will help combat the problem of sexual assault being an issue that women are reluctant to talk about. "By using social media and Google maps we are helping women find their voice and see the support of other women, but in a very familiar and safe space," she says.
The map could also help to break down the isolation that victims can feel. Ryan says, "We live in a connected age which allows women to support each other in a very real and visual way. If you can’t see it - you can’t be it. When women see other women participating, they feel empowered to do the same."
The Women’s Equality Party was founded by author and journalist Catherine Mayer with broadcaster and author Sandi Toksvig. It has made a commitment to introduce numerous measures to combat crimes of violence against women, including funding for rape crisis centres, extra policing in rape hotspots, training of police and other professionals, education in schools and restoring legal costs funding.