On June 26, sexual assault survivors and their supporters climbed India's Chamundi Hills to protest sexual violence in the country as part of the Climb Against Sexual Abuse. Hindustan Times mobile editor Yusuf Omar was there to cover the event, and he did it in a way that's both inventive and powerful: He used Snapchat filters to help sexual abuse survivors tell their stories anonymously. If you watch The Hindustan Times 's coverage of the climb, you'll see interview subjects speaking though virtual fire-breathing dragon masks. It both allows them to share their stories without risking their safety — and the use of the dragon filter itself is absolutely fitting, given the courage and strength the survivors are exhibiting as they speak about their experiences.
According to one person interviewed in the video, victims often aren't willing to make their identities known for fear of reprisal: They may have been abused by family members or others who could penalize them for talking about what they'd experienced. Some participants in the Climb Against Sexual had also faced sex trafficking, acid attacks, and other forms of abuse.
Since Omar was shooting the event on his phone, he was able to let the people he interviewed use it to pick out Snapchat filters themselves. "I thought there must be a more accessible way to disguise someone’s face using new technology, and Snapchat was just that," he told Journalism.co.uk. The app gave him the opportunity to speak with people who wouldn't have otherwise opened up, and since choosing a filter was an interactive experience, the survivors felt like they had some control over their own narratives and how their stories were told.
The other useful thing about Snapchat filters is that they can still show your eyes and expressions without distinguishing your face, Omar pointed out. “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.”
As the survivors' powerful stories reveal, sexual violence is a widespread problem throughout India, with a rape occurring about every 20 minutes, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. The Climb Against Sexual Abuse symbolizes triumph over individual survivors' pasts as well as over the past of the country. But clearly, this problem is not unique to India, and the climb also takes place in other parts of the world.
In fact, the next event is set for December at Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro. Omar plans to take his phone again to get survivors stories, as told through the mouths of fire-breathing dragons or whatever Snapchat filters they choose.