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Tuesday, July 12 • 10:31 - 12:00
What role can digital technologies play as persuasive messages in preventing sexual violence against girls and women in public spaces (trains, metros, buses)?

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Location: PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - 326, 
Goldsmiths, University of London, Building 2
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Contributor: Lukas Labacher, McGill University, Canada


The rate of sexual assaults in dense metropolitan spaces in Canadian cities (with 100,000 inhabitants or more) has not declined since as far back as 1999 (Perreault, 2015). This continues to be a particular concern in and around public transportation systems, such as buses, trains, and metros (Gekoski et al., 2015). In the quest to integrate technology as an innovative approach to end sexual violence against girls and women, a number of mobile phone apps (Circle of 6), crowd-sourcing websites (Hollaback!), and geo-mapping platforms (HarassMap) have been developed to help girls and women call on close friends and family as support before or after impending sexual assaults occurred. But what about influencing strangers standing in public spaces, where there is an immediate opportunity to intervene, to interrupt violence perpetrated against girls and women before it happens?

Objective and Methods: 

A three-month doctoral candidacy exam review was conducted on the title question, with a number of sub-questions explored: 1 – What theories exist informing research on nonviolent prosocial helping behaviours? 2 – What technologies (mobile phones & LCD screens) are currently being used to address sexual violence? 3 – What methods exist to evaluate the efficacy and effectiveness of these technologies? A second month-long review adds an examination on social work theory, practice, and policy, and on the intersectionalities between gender, identity, and the realities of victimization affecting women as well as men.


Theories explaining the Bystander Effect (Latané & Darley, 1970) and the Diffusion of Responsibility (Darley & Latané, 1968) show that people do intervene, particularly when situations are recognized as an emergency, prove to be dangerous, and fewer people are present (Fischer et al, 2011). Empathy training is not entirely effective (Schewe & O’Donohue, 1993). Persuasive technology researchers would be wise to focus less on influencing prosocial attitudes and favor showing helping behaviours exhibited in similar situations (Fabiano et al. 2003). Recognizing the value of digital technologies to support social work policy and practice is controversial (Sapey, 1997) but is growing (Goldkind & Wolf, 2015).

Future Work: 

Mass Interpersonal Persuasion (Fogg, 2008) models offer innovative solutions for designing persuasive messages in and around public transport spaces. Including pre-and post effectiveness evaluations (Gekoski et al., 2015) and men’s voices in future program and policy evolutions (Birchall, Edstrom, & Shahrokh, 2016) is the next step in this important work in improving on the efficacy (Glasgow, 2003) of bystander intervention surveys (Banyard, 2008). Future doctoral work will explore the use of visual arts-based research methodologies for social change, policy development (De Lange, Mitchell, & Moletsane, 2015), and creating networks of supportive relationships (Bock, 2012) at the local as well as international level.


Banyard, V. L. (2008). Measurement and correlates of prosocial bystander behavior: The case of interpersonal violence. Violence and Victims23(1), 83–97.

Birchall, J., Edstrom, J., & Shahrokh, T. (2016). Reframing men and boys in policy for gender equality. Retrieved from ~opendocs.ids.ac.uk/ 123456789/9709/FINAL%20DESIGNED%20VERSION.pdf

Bock J. G. (2012). The technology of nonviolence: Social media and violence prevention. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Darley, J. M., & Latané, B. (1968). Bystander intervention in emergencies: Diffusion of responsibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8, 377–383.

De Lange, N., Mitchell, C., & Moletsane, R. (2015). Girl-led strategies to address campus safety: Creating action briefs for dialogue with policy makers. Agenda29(3), 118–127.

Fabiano, P. M., Perkins, H. W., Berkowitz, A., Linkenbach, J., & Stark, C. (2003). Engaging men as social justice allies in ending violence against women: Evidence for a social norms approach. Journal of American College Health52(3), 105–112.

Fischer, P., Krueger, J. I., Greitemeyer, T., Vogrincic, C., Kastenmüller, A., Frey, D., ... & Kainbacher, M. (2011). The bystander-effect: a meta-analytic review on bystander intervention in dangerous and non-dangerous emergencies. Psychological Bulletin, 137(4), 517–537.

Fogg, B. J. (2008). Mass interpersonal persuasion: An early view of a new phenomenon. In Persuasive Technology (pp. 23–34). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Gekoski, A., Gray, J. M., Horvath, M. A. H., Edwards, S., Emirali, A. & Adler, J. R. (2015). ‘What Works’ in Reducing Sexual Harassment and Sexual Offences on Public Transport Nationally and Internationally: A Rapid Evidence Assessment. London, UK.

Glasgow, R. E., Lichtenstein, E., & Marcus, A. C. (2003). Why don't we see more translation of health promotion research to practice? Rethinking the efficacy-to-effectiveness transition. American Journal of Public Health93(8), 1261–1267.

Goldkind, L., & Wolf, L. (2015). A digital environment approach: Four technologies that will disrupt social work practice. Social Work60(1), 85–87.

Latané, B., & Darley, J. M. (1970). The unresponsive bystander: Why doesn’t he help? New York, NY: Appleton-Century-Croft.

Perreault, S. (2015). Criminal victimization in Canada, 2014. Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Catalogue no. 85-002-X ISSN 1209–6393. Retrieved from statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2015001/article/14241-eng.pdf

Sapey, B. (1997). Social work tomorrow: Towards a critical understanding of technology in social work. British Journal of Social Work27(6), 803–814.

Schewe, P., & O’Donohue, W. (1993). Rape prevention: Methodological problems and new directions. Clinical Psychology Review, 13, 667–682.

Tuesday July 12, 2016 10:31 - 12:00 UTC
PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - 326 Goldsmiths University, Building 2