Missing Sisters: A Crowdsourced Map of Violence Against Aboriginal Women in Canada

Friday, February 8, 2013

Missing Sisters: A Crowdsourced Map of Violence Against Aboriginal Women in Canada
 Last week I wrote a post about Harassmap, a web site established by activists to document and record women’s experiences of sexual harassment in Egypt. Part of the goal of the map is to make visible the invisible and to create a powerful visual and textual record with a view to social change.
On Tuesday, February 4 2013, the group Anonymous released a crowd-sourced map that aims to document crimes of violence against aboriginal women in Canada. Information on the map appears to be collected from a combination of newspaper reports, online municipal crime report information and reports by individuals. The map includes a function that allows individuals to report incidents. The map records solved and unsolved murders, missing women, unidentified remains, and verbal and sexual assaults. While in some cases there is little information available, some individual posts link to news stories, or contain the written descriptions provided by contributors.
Maps of this kind have enormous potential. They can create a verbal and visual record of incidents that might otherwise go unreported. They also represent information in a way that can be much more powerful than a series of isolated reports, and that can be more compelling than a lengthy written document. Geographic representation of this kind of information, combined with crowd-sourced reporting of incidents that might not appear in official records also may reveal new and significant patterns in the information.      
The new Missing Sisters map is thus an interesting and potentially important initiative. It gives a taste of what might be achieved using crowd sourcing to document the extent of violence and harassment of aboriginal women in Canada. The site is linked to Operation Thunderbird, a coalition of activists concerned about violence against aboriginal women in Canada. The press release that was issued to launch the map speaks of the goals and objectives of the map and gives more information about the steps taken to collect and verify information. Unfortunately, very little of this information about the site, its creators, and its methodology appears on the Missing Sisters map site itself. Those who visit the site to upload their own stories of harassment and violence should easily be able to find out something about the map-makers, their objectives in creating the map and perhaps their longer term goals for it. The site would also benefit from some clear and explicit text (and/or video) explaining it goals and methods.
The Ushahidi platform that is the basis both for this map and for HarassMap is free and user-friendly. Let’s hope that Missing Sisters sparks interest and enthusiasm for this powerful vehicle for communication.
Designed by Rachel Gold.