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‘Sexually inappropriate calls have been normalised, women need to report more’


Written by Shruti Dhapola
| New Delhi |

Published: March 5, 2020 1:01:14 pm


Truecaller, Truecaller survey on women harassment, Truecaller women harassment, Women sexual harassment calls, Women's Day, Women sexually harassing calls Women across countries continue to receive sexually inappropriate and harassing calls and SMS, but very few choose to report it to authorities. (Representational Image. Getty Images)

In India, nearly 76 percent women receive a call or a text message from a stranger, which contains a sexually inappropriate message or some form of harassment. And while 85 percent of these women were quick to block the number, when it comes to reporting these incidents to authorities, it stands at a mere 12 percent.

This is the number that Truecaller Managing Director Sandip Patil says the company wants to change with its new MakeTheCall campaign, as it wants to encourage more women to proactively report such kind of calls.

“There’s a certain level of normalisation that has crept in with this problem of sexual harassment via phone calls and SMS and that’s what we want to focus on this year with the ‘MakeTheCall’ campaign. Our earlier campaigns focused on awareness, but the issue is also that women are not reporting these matters, and that’s what we want to change,” Patil told indianexpress.com over a call.

When asked to explain what he means by ‘normalisation’, he elaborated that while a significant chunk of women face sexually-loaded or inappropriate calls, but a major chunk do not even consider it as harassment. For instance, the survey showed in India, only 58 per cent of women interviewed considered these calls to be harassment. In Egypt, it was worse, as only 35 per cent considered such calls as falling under harassment.

The findings are based on a Truecaller survey, which looks at the impact of harassment calls and SMS for women in five countries: India, Brazil, Colombia, Egypt and Kenya. Truecaller has done similar surveys for women in India in 2019 and 2018, though this time they have expanded to go beyond the Indian market and looked at other countries as well. The study is not just based on Truecaller users, but talks to women across the board.

Truecaller, Truecaller survey on women harassment, Truecaller women harassment, Women sexual harassment calls, Women's Day, Women sexually harassing calls Sandip Patil, Managing Director, Truecaller.

“In India, for the other 42 per cent, it is not even harassment, it didn’t hit that bar. In Egypt, which has one in three women receiving such calls, two-thirds did not consider it as harassment, which is really shocking”, Patil pointed out.

The survey showed that many women just simply block the number, which works well for them, but that still does not solve the problem.

“While we say that, yes blocking is the first step and that’s good, we want to encourage women to report these matters to the authorities,” he added.

When asked if Truecaller was planning to include some product feature, which could perhaps allow women to tag such numbers as serial harassers, Patil admitted they are exploring ideas, but that it was not an easy problem to solve.

“The issue with this is that even if an individual harasses five women, that is still a very small number for an algorithm to pick up. So right now, creating a solution specific for this is difficult. What we are thinking about is different colours  to showcase spam calls, scam calls and harassment calls in the app,” he said. Spam calls show with a red background in the app at the moment.

He also explained that developing such products was limited because the system depends on machine learning capabilities to tag a number as spam. So, even five or ten instances of a number being reported as a serial harasser would be too small for the algorithm to pick up.

Women who received harassing or nuisance calls in the countries. (Image source: Truecaller report)

Patil revealed that the company planned to launch a separate initiative specifically for women, which would be a separate app, and bring tools to help with some of the concerns faced by them. However, he did not divulge further details, saying the company was still working on this and would announce it in the coming months.

For now, Truecaller is hoping it can encourage more women to report such calls to authorities. The survey also showed that many women are afraid to report because they are worried their claims will not be taken seriously and that fear remains true across countries.

For example, in Kenya, women get little support from authorities when reporting such incidents of harassment. While only 12 percent of Indian women reported these calls to authorities, it was the highest among all the countries surveyed.

Compute Engine resources are hosted in multiple locations worldwide. These locations are composed of regions and zones. A region is a specific geographical location where you can host your resources. Each region has one or more zones; most regions have three or more zones. For example, the us-west1 region denotes a region on the west coast of the United States that has three zones: us-west1-a, us-west1-b, and us-west1-c. Resources that live in a zone, such as virtual machine instances or zonal persistent disks, are referred to as zonal resources. Other resources, like static external IP addresses, are regional. Regional resources can be used by any resources in that region, regardless of zone, while zonal resources can only be used by other resources in the same zone. For example, to attach a zonal persistent disk to an instance, both resources must be in the same zone. Similarly, if you want to assign a static IP address to an instance, the instance must be in the same region as the static IP address. Putting resources in different zones in a region provides isolation from most types of physical infrastructure and infrastructure software service failures. Putting resources in different regions provides an even higher degree of failure independence. This allows you to design robust systems with resources spread across different failure domains. Only certain resources are region- or zone-specific. Other resources, such as images, are global resources that can be used by any other resources across any location. For information on global, regional, and zonal Compute Engine resources, see Global, Regional, and Zonal Resources. The number of women who receive sexual/ inappropriate calls or SMS, based on the countries surveyed. (Source: Truecaller report)

“There is an extent of normalisation around sexually harassing calls, which no one has expected. Because of this normalisation, women are afraid to take actions, which will impact the wider ecosystem and this just ends up emboldening the offenders. We are hoping to empower women to report such issues with our campaign, which will also make the ecosystem safer as a whole,” he said.

Key stats from Truecaller’s report on sexual harassment in India and other countries in 2019

  • In India, 1 out of 5 women receive sexual and inappropriate calls
  • 76% of such calls that women face are from unknown sources. Only about 4% of all the sexual harassment calls/SMS are from known acquaintances.
  • 67% of women in India reported irritation with these calls, 60% anger, 29% of them were worried, 29% were troubled and 21% reported feeling fear.
  • The most affected cities in India are: Chennai, New Delhi, Pune and Kolkata
  • 7 out of 10 women in India take action against harassment calls, which is the highest rate of women taking action against harassment calls in comparison to other countries surveyed.
  • 85% of them blocked the number but only 12% of them reported the number to the authorities.
  • In Brazil, Egypt, and Kenya, nine out of 10 women received harassment and nuisance calls.
  • In Brazil (27%) and Kenya (47%) the calls are actually being made by prison inmates who harass women.

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Updated: March 5, 2020 — 7:53 am

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