Published December 11, 2012
Social media experts focused on how their work can prevent violence against women at a recent panel organized by the new Global Women's Institute at The George Washington University in Washington, DC. Pulitzer Center social media editor Caroline D'Angelo joined three other experts in the field to talk about gender inequality and violence issues and how social media can help play a role in resolving them.
D'Angelo discussed how the Pulitzer Center uses social media and multimedia projects to report on violence against women and as part of its larger work on gender and inequality issues. Other panelists included social media experts and women's rights leaders such as Liriel Higa, social media strategist at Half the Sky Movement, Shawna Potter, founder of Hollaback Baltimore, and Nancy Schwartzman, executive director of "The Line" campaign and developer of mobile app Circle of 6. Frank Sesno, director of GW's School of Media and Public Affairs, moderated the panel.
All panelists focused on how they use evolving technology and social media strategy to educate the public and gather support for taking action to stop violence and gender inequality.
"It is our responsibility to use this new technology and tell these stories," Potter said, adding that the only thing that keeps rape culture going is silence. Hollaback, she said, provides a platform on which women can voice their stories, and even more importantly, sharing these stories on social media is forcing people to listen. Potter said the main reason that violence often goes unreported and unnoticed is that the victim is too often blamed for the incident.
Hollaback is both a website and mobile app that can help women report street harassment by taking a picture of their harasser and sharing the story online. The Hollaback team vets every story that is submitted and has never gotten a complaint denying the charges since it began in 2005. Today, there are more than 60 Hollaback chapters worldwide and soon residents of New York City will be able to send in reports about street harassment to the city government through the Hollaback app.
Schwartzman, who is a documentary filmmaker, said that her main goal was to educate young people about violence against women. Her new documentary "The Line" is aimed at college students. During her college years Schwartzman was the victim of sexual assault while abroad, and the documentary focuses on the confrontation with her rapist years after the incident. A campaign with the same name as the film serves as an "anecdotal tool to get people talking about their sexuality."
Potter agrees that getting people more comfortable about their sexuality is one of the keys to helping solve the issue: "If you know what you want, you're more likely to know what you don't want."
One of the benefits of social media is the ability to crowdsource information and share it with others. Many of the social media initiatives concerning violence against women are targeted at young people who are committed to making a difference about these issues. Melissa Turley, the 2012 Pulitzer Center Student Fellow from The George Washington University, focused her reporting project on violence against women in South Africa. During the panel, D'Angelo screened a video Turley produced as part of her reporting.
Social media also provides women with more options for staying safe. Schwartzman's Circle of 6 mobile app is designed to help women in situations where they feel uncomfortable by sending messages to six friends when prompted. The user can ask for help to get home safely, a phone call for distraction, or let friends know she is worried about being in an unhealthy relationship.
Whether social media is being used to help them stay safe, empower them to share meaningful stories or shed light on women's issues worldwide, it is playing a large and growing role in helping prevent violence against women and girls.