sexual assault reporting app developed post-jill meagher
In the days after Jill Meagher’s body was found, police were inundated with calls from women who reported having been the victims of sexual harassment on Sydney Road, not far from where Meagher was last seen. They were all overwhelming similar in that they had not reported the incident when it happened, for a various reasons. Chillingly, the description many of them provided of their attackers matched the profile of the accused in the Jill Meagher case – including one from prominent Melbourne author, Catherine Deveny. When an event as devastating and wide-reaching as this one happens, there are a lot of questions asked, and perhaps now, one can be whether Jill Meagher’s life could have been saved by something as simple as a smart phone app.
The free app uses GPS technology to allow assaulted women to post details of the attack, including where it happened and a description of the offender (anonymously, of course) for them to then be passed onto police. The information can then be analysed and may make it easier for patterns to be visualised. It is hoped the app will act as a confidential forum for them to be able to report instances of assault, and encourage them to report if they would not have done so otherwise. There are a number of reasons why abused women don’t report attacks but when one of the most damning statistics surrounding rape is that only 1 in 6 rape cases result in a prosecution, it is easier to understand why it can feel futile.
Head of the south-east branch of The Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA), Carolyn Worth, said that they know women don’t tend to report assault as ‘…they come to us for emergency contraception and sexual health tests. Many say they would be happy to do something without going to police.’
The app, which is the first of its kind to be developed for Australian women, differs from sexual offender apps which exist in America. Those apps tend to include mug shots of known offenders as well as details of where they live. Worth reiterated that she considered those apps to be a ‘bad idea’ and that the purpose of the new app is to ‘empower women, not put up a list of who lives where’. It is a positive step forward for Victorian women particularly, as unlike in New South Wales and Queensland, sexual assault victims do not have an option to report anonymously.
It is of no help to anyone to speculate as to what could have been done differently to save Jill Meagher’s life, but this app will hopefully go a long way to encouraging women to report all incidents of sexual assault, no matter how insignificant or minor. The more outspoken and vocal we are against sexual assault and violence against women, the greater chance we have of preventing more needless wastes of life.
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