5th May, 2022
Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month shines a light on an often-hidden social problem. Zoë Condliffe’s startup, She’s A Crowd, does the same thing, all year round.
This article discusses domestic violence. If you or someone you know needs support, contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or via live chat on their website.
Like many other Australians, an abusive relationship changed Zoë Condliffe’s life. But the hardship also created the building blocks of She’s A Crowd, an online platform that empowers victims and promotes gender-based violence data collection.
“Anyone, anywhere in the world, can access our reporting platform and share their story,” Zoë says. “They can remain completely anonymous, and we provide validation and support, throughout the process.”
After stories are submitted and verified by the She’s A Crowd team, they can be accessed by decision-makers through a live data insights dashboard. This data can be used to make cities safer for women, influence policy and services, and to help prevent gender-based violence in the future.
“When I first started working in crowd mapping, I saw first-hand how it changed the hearts and minds of people in positions of power.
“Visualising the stories on a map is a very persuasive way to illustrate a problem.
“One of the most impactful ways to make change is by persuading people emotionally.”
The idea of creating a platform for people to share their stories followed on after Zoë shared her own. She’s grateful that her workplace, an NGO called Plan International Australia, provided her the invaluable opportunity to do so.
“When I started sharing my story, I noticed that other people felt comfortable coming forward and sharing theirs.
“It made other people feel less alone. And it made me feel less alone too.”
It was then that Zoë realised she had the capacity to offer a new platform for people to be able to share their stories in a meaningful, and safe, way.
“I could see how meaningful it was for people to have a place to share.
“Sometimes She’s A Crowd is the first time a survivor has shared their story and been believed.
“I became fascinated with story sharing as a cathartic process and a way to heal trauma. A lot of the time it releases something, and the survivor can move on.”
Personal learning is one thing, but one event compelled Zoë to use her experience in crowdsourced data for the betterment of countless others.
“When the #MeToo movement went viral on Twitter, I realised the issue of sexual assault had risen to the forefront of public consciousness.
“Now was the time to jump on that moment and leverage it to make a real difference.”
The concept for She’s A Crowd is unique, but the experiences and skills Zoë learned while working in international development provided strong foundations.
“I had experience in crowd mapping and in survivor-centric storytelling, so I started pitching this idea for a social enterprise with a sustainable business model.”
Zoë quickly found success with SheStarts, a venture-backed accelerator program for women-led startups, but then faced a tough decision: stay in an NGO job she loved or pursue a cause she believed in.
“I decided that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, that I had to trust myself, and that I was the right person at the right time.
“That first six months were rough. I felt so much imposter syndrome and there was a lot of instability – I didn’t have an income and there was a steep learning curve.”
But knowing the positive impact the project would make provided enough incentive to see it through.
And the results speak for themselves.
“I just kept working towards my goals and brought in the right people to support me. Then the idea started taking off and things just started happening.”
One of the core ways She’s A Crowd drives positive change is by emphasising ‘counter data’ – information that counterbalances the widespread use of biased data.
“The way data is currently collected reflects existing oppressions or existing power dynamics within society,” Zoë says. “It is often sexist, racist, and ableist.
“We have seen countless examples of this in city design or the design of AI.
When it comes to domestic violence, there’s reason to doubt official statistics capture the full story.
“One of the only consistent sources of data about sexual assault and domestic violence is through crime statistics.
“But there are clear barriers to reporting an experience of sexual assault, and in Australia, 90 percent of survivors do not report.”
These barriers, which can include self-blame, fear of not being believed, and potential of re-lived trauma, continually reinforce misleading data. Counter data collected by She’s A Crowd tries to solve this problem.
“We see decisions that make assumptions about survivor experiences. But if you can’t understand a problem, you can’t fix it properly.”
Zoë see’s She’s A Crowd as being in a unique position to both gain new, better data in this area, and interpret it, to deliver positive outcomes.
“Decision makers use our data to understand experiences related to women or vulnerable people. They can then design safer and more inclusive products and services.
“We’re working on a rideshare report at the moment. It’s seen as one of the safer options in terms of getting home after dark, but there are still issues that make it unsafe, especially for vulnerable populations
“We want to hold decision makers to account, to consider the ridesharing experiences of women, trans and non-binary people, and other people who experience barriers to getting home safely.”
Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month is a reminder that intimate partner violence is a year-round problem.
“Domestic violence is still very misunderstood,” Zoë says.
“We need to continue to raise awareness about red flags, the complex ways domestic violence plays out emotionally and socially, and how to support someone you think is going through it.”
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This can start with simply recognising and acting on the signs – even in the workplace. Helen Lea, Chief Employee Experience Officer at MYOB, offers a reminder that workplace support should be available for anyone experiencing domestic violence.
“Every person has a right to live free from fear and abuse.
“At MYOB, we recognise that some team members face situations of violence or abuse, and we are committed to supporting them.
“We take responsibility in our role to respond to family violence by providing a safe and supportive environment with our flexible working, up to 10 days paid leave for activities related to family violence, such as medical appointments and legal proceedings, and, if needed, a workplace safety plan.”