Safe in the city? Focus on CCTV and Women’s Safety – Monash Lens

CCTV cameras on trains and city streets are supposed to reassure us that we’re not in danger – but women don’t always see them that way.

Technology-enhanced surveillance, such as CCTV, is often used as a forensic tool after an incident, but this deployment carries certain risks that can negatively affect women’s perceptions of their safety and actual safety.

“The camera makes her feel hyper vigilant, it changes her behavior, she can choose to quickly leave this area,” explains Nicole Kalms, founder of the XYX Lab, which studies gender and public spaces.

“Her immediate response is to think that she is in a dangerous place… The symbolic impact of the CCTV camera really shapes the behavior of women in cities.”

Security always in number

Although people tell researchers they want to see CCTV cameras monitoring streets and busy spaces, Associate Professor Kalms says their impact on women is poorly understood.

Women and girls “tell us all the time that CCTV cameras cannot replace the experiences of being with and around other people watching over you,” she says. “So there are a lot of contradictions between what councils, politicians, local government want and what women and girls consider safe. “

By keeping women away, the cameras perpetuate the problem they are trying to solve, she says.

“The more women we can have in public spaces, the more women will want to be in public spaces, and we [can] build this live surveillance, if you will, of us watching over each other.

Women and girls also prefer the presence of security officers and guards over cameras, she says.

“Real people, authority figures who are trained in gender sensitive ways of working and taking into account trauma with women and girls, they want to see these kinds of people in space.”

Cameras may provide a short-term solution, but they do not capture all forms of sexual harassment (such as verbal harassment or stalking). At present, such technology may be a short-term measure deployed as we plan behavioral changes and education on gender violence and gender stereotypes. Until that changes, women will feel vulnerable as they move around public spaces, especially at night, says Associate Professor Kalms.

If video surveillance is used, live surveillance with the ability to respond to any incident is considered optimal. But in public transport maintenance can be an issue, quality is spotty, security footage isn’t always monitored, and not all cameras work, says Associate Professor Kalms.

“No digital tool can stop random acts of violence and the perpetration of violence against women in urban spaces. “

She is also skeptical of ‘digital bodyguard’ mobile phone apps, which are designed to allow women to tell friends or family that they are safe when traveling alone. the night.

“What we are starting to see more and more is that digital bodyguards are being used by partners, and even family members, to monitor women and girls’ experiences and their movements in cities. , which you will understand is quite problematic when we think of domestic violence and domestic violence, family violence, ”she said.

Apps can also give a false sense of security.

“No digital tool can stop random acts of violence and the perpetration of violence against women in urban spaces,” she says. “In fact, they take away a certain capacity for action that women and girls really deserve in cities.”

So what can women do?

The XYX Lab asked women and girls to share their experiences of public spaces through a “geolocation tool” on their smartphones or devices that allows them to share what has happened to them in particular urban spaces.

The tool “allows us to understand … what kinds of experiences they have, but also how we could create more gender-sensitive spaces, how we could design better cities, what kind of things women and girls need in these spaces ”.


Read more: How to make trams, trains and buses safer for women


Using the tool, the laboratory collects the urban experiences of women. In 2018, together with Plan International and its long-term collaborator CrowdSpot, the XYX Lab conducted research on five continents – in Sydney, Lima, Kampala, Madrid and Delhi. (It started with a pilot project in Melbourne in 2016.) A total of 21,000 women under 35 recorded their experiences in these cities using their smartphones.

Although these cities are very different, all participants recorded experiences of sexual harassment.

“We can’t get this information any other way,” says Associate Professor Kalms, “because women and girls don’t relate this kind of experience to authority figures. “

Yet harassment is so widespread that if the women reported these incidents, “they would be at the police station or talking to public transport authorities almost every day.”

A woman standing in a crowded bus.

When the women used the tool for public transport spaces, the researchers realized that sexual harassment was more likely to take place in crowded vehicles where detection was difficult.

The tool is “not surveillance,” she stresses. While the geolocation tool allows researchers to “pinpoint exactly where particular incidents occur, the results are made available to women and their communities so that they are empowered to make change.”

Above all, it allows participants “to detail at their own pace and in their own way what is going on,” she says.

“They want to tell their story. They can also see the stories of other women. Women’s experiences are validated using this crowd mapping tool.

“This dataset becomes a factual and evidence-based way for us to negotiate with policy makers,” says Associate Professor Kalms. “Councils and communities use it to decide what becomes a priority for them. “

It allows researchers to “put evidence in front of people in positions of power.” It helps urban decision-makers make better decisions and prioritize the needs of women in the cities they build.

Mara R. Wilmoth