she’s a crowd

Zoë condliffe is offering people in power a clearer picture of gender-based violence.


Any woman who’s walked home alone down a poorly lit road, or squeezed onto a crowded train at peak hour, or copped a pinch on the bum at a gig, knows what it’s like to feel vulnerable in a public space. Unfortunat­ely, we’re often told it’s our responsibi­lity to monitor our own behaviour – what we wear, where we go and with whom (thanks a lot, patriarchy!). But what if we could design cities with women’s safety in mind from the get-go? Secure workplaces, music venues and schools, right off the bat.

The trouble is, it’s hard to know what kind of change is needed when we don’t have the complete picture on sexual assault and harassment. Statistics show that in Australia, more than 85 per cent of sexual assault goes unreported. Plenty of women and non-binary folks have #Metoo stories, but how many have shared them with anyone beyond their close friends? Yeah, they were once groped in a ‘jokey’ way by their boss at a summer job. It was annoying, but maybe didn’t seem like a big deal. Who would they even tell?

Zoë Condliffe, the Melbourne-based founder of She’s A Crowd – an online crowdsourc­ing start-up collecting stories about sexual assault – says we’re so used to harassment that we often don’t feel compelled to report it. “We normalise these things so much, we think they wouldn’t be worth reporting,” Zoë says. “We think no one will listen to us, or that it happened so long ago it doesn’t count anymore.” And some people, such as Indigenous or migrant Australian­s, might feel uncomforta­ble interactin­g with the police or other authority figures, let alone sharing intimate details about a traumatic event.

She’s A Crowd aims to change all that by putting the power of reporting sexual assault back in the hands of women and non-binary people. The website, available 24/7, takes users through a series of optional questions about their experience. (There are no log-ins or sign-ups required, either, meaning total anonymity.) You can share something that happened to you or something you witnessed. Any level of harassment can be reported, too, from ‘creepy vibes’ to ‘controllin­g behaviour’ or ‘financial abuse’. There are questions about how you felt or acted after the incident, and there’s space to write up the story entirely in your own words. Accounts collected by the platform are then turned into anonymous datasets, which are analysed for trends and themes around when, where, how, to whom and by whom violence occurs.

“We don’t exist to take anyone to court or hold anyone accountabl­e,” says Zoë, who started She’s A Crowd in 2018. “We exist to allow you to share your story, sometimes for the first time, with the knowledge that it’s going to make things better for the next person.” Zoë says data is an awesome tool for advocacy and change, especially for government types, who like concrete numbers to back up their policies. “If they’re doing a street-lighting project, and they want to know how women are experienci­ng a particular neighbourh­ood at night, we can tell them,” she says. “If they want to know how Asian women are feeling during the COVID-19 crisis, because there have been heightened racist attacks, we can look into our dataset and figure it out.”

Zoë didn’t start out as a data nerd, but she’s had a lifelong interest in social justice, thanks in part to spending some of her childhood in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where her dad worked in human rights for the UN. When she returned to Cambodia in her early 20s, she opened a non-profit organisati­on supporting arts education in rural areas.

While there, Zoë found herself in an abusive relationsh­ip. It snuck up on her in subtle ways that are sometimes neglected in conversati­ons about gender-based violence. “He was very careful to never do anything that could be called ‘physical’,” says Zoë, whose partner

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