The Crowdsourcing Hero: Helping the Helpless

I was highly intrigued by my discovery of HarassMap, an online crowdsourcing resource that allows women to anonymously report occurrences of sexual harassment simply by sending a text message (or calling or Twittering) from their phone. Those reports are then mapped and the victims of sexual harassment receive information on how to respond to or cope with their experiences. The hope is that by using the map to identify hot spots for sexual harassment, volunteers can then work with local business owners, residents, and authorities to minimize problems and better remake their at-risk communities safer for women.

The site is led by American, Rebecca Chiao who describes her reasons for starting HarassMap, “I came to Egypt in 2004 by chance and since then it’s been my home… I wanted to help start HarassMap to provide a link between us all – men, women, NGOs, government, private companies. None of us expect to change the situation immediately, but HarassMap can be a good addition to the important work that’s already been happening in the past five years.”

It’s a truly encouraging attitude and it’s similar to a couple of other crowdsourcing crime-fighting initiatives. In a case that has been unsolved since 1999, the FBI is now reaching out to the public to unlock the cryptography in two notes left on the body of Ricky McCormick. McCormick was 41 years old when he was discovered and the two pieces of paper have puzzled analysts for years. Now, the FBI has made the notes public, hoping that crowdsourcing will help them solve the case.

Here in Seattle, the Seattle Police Department uses their Twitter account on a regular basis and looks to their followers to help them in their latest initiative called “Get Your Car Back.” Stolen car descriptions are posted to the dedicated twitter feed detailing stolen cars’ make, model, color and registration number. If any Twitter follower recognizes the description, they are directed to call 911. With over 7,000 Twitter followers, it is possible that the Seattle PD may make their goal of reducing thefts by up to 20%.

Do you think that this citizen-engaging activity will help or hurt the traditional legal process? What other ways can crowdsourcing serve the victims of crime?

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