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How one Indian journalist is using Snapchat to help survivors of sexual abuse tell their stories

Posted by
Harriet Hall
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A journalist at the Hindustan Times has been using Snapchat filters in order to help survivors of sexual abuse feel able to tell their stories on film.

Yusuf Omar, the paper’s mobile editor, has been covering Climb Against Sexual Abuse, an organisation that works to break the silence around sexual abuse by organising hikes with survivors.

Omar filmed the event using his iPhone on a selfie stick, in which 50 young people climbed the Chamundi Hills in Mysore, India.

During the hike, as people opened up about their experiences, Omar wanted to film them but to allow them to tell their stories without having their identities revealed. He realised that Snapchat’s face-mapping filters were an ideal way to do so, changing people’s appearances into dogs or lions or dragons.

“I thought there must be a more accessible way to disguise someone’s face using new technology, and Snapchat was just that,” Omar tells Journalism.co.uk

In the interviews, Omar allowed the contributors to select the filter of their choice, then tell their stories however they chose – either in front of the camera alone or with Omar filming.

“They weren't telling their story to me or a camera, they were just looking at themselves in a phone and recalling their experiences – and there was something so personal and sincere about that,” he says.

The filters also brought a level of trust to the exchange, which might not exist under other circumstances, says Omar:

“Recording with a mask gave them the sense of legitimacy and security that I wasn’t going to be able to show their face, as opposed to trusting a journalist saying ‘Yes, we will blur you afterwards’, so they felt empowered and in control of the narrative.”

The added benefit of the Snapchat filters is that, as opposed to the usual identity-disguising techniques which obscure the entire face, they allow the viewer to see the subject’s eyes and expressions – making the entire account much more personal and emotive.

Omar says that the technology can have some “serious applications for journalism”, as they allowed him to get no-holds-barred interviews as people are not anxious about having to cover themselves up.

The journalist says he is planning to use the filters in other circumstances, so that survivors of sexual abuse can tell their stories without feeling stigmatised – which he says is so often the case within Indian culture.