The idea of a smart dress to help fight sexual harassment is an interesting one.
Can technology provide a solution to the rising menace of sexual misconduct? Objectifying the female body is nothing new but its culpability in this horrible trend cannot be overruled.
Objectively speaking however, women are not the only victims of sexual harassment as the opposite gender, including boys, are also reporting worrisome incidents. Hard to say how far technology can go at this time but it appears someone is ready to give it a shot.
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Seems like a long shot but the alternative is to rely on man’s intrinsic ability to act appropriately. Apparently, this has not and may not work in the foreseeable future.
Facing The Belief Hurdle
Think about it; when a lady (or other victims) cries out about molestation, is it easy to believe right off the bat? Often, victims face a belief hurdle. This is not surprising considering the sensitive nature of the accusation and the implication if found to be true. One of the most recent high-profile incidents probably illustrates this scenario aptly while highlighting the gap technology may fill; evidence.
A Real-life Hollywood Plot; Without a Premeditated Twist
Best known for mind-numbing movie plots, Hollywood witnessed some bizarre revelations when one of its most famous producers, Harold Weinstein suddenly faced a media barrage after revelations of his years-long sexual harassment of employees.
There was no hiding behind any twisted movie plot and surely, no happy ending as Weinstein got fired from his own company. As with any antagonist, he tried to bluster his way out initially but overwhelming reports by alleged victims provided lurid details of despicable activities over the years.
While admitting culpability, he, however, denied involvement in many of those claims. Bottom line is, it happened and there might be a lengthy argument about prevailing circumstances for a long time to come. He said, she said and all that…
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Can Technology Turn the Table on Sexual Harassment?
The jury is still out on the practicality of the smart dress designed for this purpose but at least, the step has been taken. As with most conceptual models, there are many kinks to iron out.
In a campaign tagged Dress for Respect, global advertising firm, Ogilvy, collaborated with Schweppes Brazil to design a smart dress with sensors sewn in to detect and measure when and which part of the body is touched by another person.
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The data gathered by this dress is transmitted to a control unit in real time via WiFi. The choice of Brazil for this particular campaign was likely informed by the country’s notoriety for female harassment in nightclubs.
According to statistics, an estimated 86% of women have been sexually harassed in nightclubs in Brazil.
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The campaign planners invited three young ladies; Luisa, Tatiana and Juliana to participate by wearing the smart dress to a Sao Paolo nightclub.
After wearing the dress for three hours and forty-seven minutes, the data revealed that they were non-consensually touched 157 times. That averages out at forty times per hour and even if shared between the three women, that’s more than ten times per hour!
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Apparently, the campaign was organised to catalyse behavioural change among men in Brazil. The takeaway however, is that opportunities for research exist in this niche to leverage technology in tackling the harassment menace.
The Challenge of This Smart Dress
Here are just a few impracticalities that are highlighted by the smart dress:
- Its sensors cannot distinguish between consensual touches and otherwise.
- Obviously slight discomfort of wearing a techy dress
- Cannot stop the offender from carrying out or stopping the obnoxious act
- Cannot identify the offender or record the offensive act for proper prosecution. It probably has very little legal value
- Making actionable sense of the vast amount of data from a compact environment like the one where the experiment took place.
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Will this work? Evidently, this iteration of the technology will not cut much ice but lessons have been learnt and hopefully, an inventor will be sufficiently motivated by the increasing cases of molestation to design an actually smart dress.