TNM Interview: Harassment on the wane, says chief of Hyderabad’s SHE teams Swati Lakra

"We want to change the functioning of the society and create awareness," she said
TNM Interview: Harassment on the wane, says chief of Hyderabad’s SHE teams Swati Lakra
TNM Interview: Harassment on the wane, says chief of Hyderabad’s SHE teams Swati Lakra
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It has been over a year since the Hyderabad police launched the SHE teams initiative. Launched on October 26 last year, mainly to tackle street harassment of women in public spaces, the all-women’s teams have now expanded into tackling cyber-crime against women as well.

Each SHE team comprises five undercover women police personnel, who have been provided with cameras to record any act of harassment in public.

This week, the police released some interesting statistics on the work done by SHE teams. Swati Lakra, additional Commissioner of Police (Crimes), Hyderabad and head of the SHE teams speaks to The News Minute about the initiative's success, the hurdles it faced and its future plans.

SHE teams have completed one year. How would you rate your success? Tackling street harassment is showing results but what about crimes against women like domestic violence and sexual assaults? 

We started in October last year, mainly with the intention to curb eve-teasing (street harassment) and make women more safe in public spaces. The gamut of problems faced by women is huge and this was definitely just a start. We have other wings of the police that deal with things like domestic violence on women and other important issues. However, that being said, we have started taking complaints related to cyber-crime where women are sometimes harassed online to a very alarming extent especially on social media.

What was one of the biggest challenges you faced when you initially set out on the task? 

One of the first things we noticed was that people would just deny that they committed a crime. That's when we told our officers to record the incident, either on a small hand-held camera or even a phone camera. The teams had a lot of patience and worked very hard because they have to take care of the case till it reaches the court and we were also very particular not to frame an innocent person. So, the video recording was mandatory.

Besides that, we don't just want to keep making arrests. We want to change the functioning of the society and create awareness. We even went to several colleges and held campaigns. The feedback has been positive. 

Of the 825 persons arrested by SHE teams last year for harassing women in public places, a large percentage were minors. Is this a thing to worry about?

This is definitely a thing to worry about. A lot of the minors we caught were 15-16 years old and did not even realize that what they were doing was wrong. It really says something about the value system that is in place in our education system. Initially we counselled the boys, but we got a professional team soon, who also speak to the parents as well as the child. Many parents were shocked that their child could do such a thing.

A lot of them were from poorer socio-economic backgrounds with parents working as auto drivers and maids, but they were working hard to educate the child

Also, once we let them go, we monitor their behaviour and make them report to us from time to time. We also ask them to participate in anti-eve teasing campaigns and put up a Facebook status or two advising their friends against such behaviour. 

Does counselling work? Any repeat offenders?

Counselling does work to a large extent. A lot of the times, the women are not writing a complaint, so we book the perpetrators under petty cases. Though our conviction rate in front of the magistrate is 100 percent and we haven't seen any repeat offenders in Hyderabad city, we are still trying to push for more.

These people should have the fear of getting caught before they think about eve-teasing. Also, it should become a habit for them to respect women.

However, if we do catch repeat offenders we will take stringent action against them.

A lot of people have suggested that the SHE teams get a direct helpline number. Victims have to dial 100. Do you think it is time to set up a direct helpline number?

There are a few cities where women have a few direct helpline numbers that they can call. However, this results in a lot of confusion. When it is a crisis and a woman dials 100, it is the response time that matters not the number she calls. 

The phone immediately rings at multiple places and a patrol car or a blue colts team (neighbourhood police team) is sent to the location. The important thing is that any potential crisis is averted.

For other situations, we have a Facebook page, an email id and a WhatsApp number via which people can reach out to us.

What are the future plans for the SHE teams? 

For now, we are looking into cyber-crimes and we have also stepped up our awareness campaigns and social media presence. We will continue deploying teams on the ground and try to make public spaces safe for women.

Personally, I look forward to a time when SHE teams would no longer be required, but considering the number of problems that our society faces, it does not look like it will happen anytime soon.

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