How ATMs could encourage sexual assault reporting

Image: Getty.

In an ATM kiosk in Bhubaneswar, the capital of the Indian state of Odisha, there's an ATM that isn't an ATM. Instead, it's a crime-reporting machine, through which users can scan or type an account of sexual assault or harassment without having to visit a police station. The kiosk opened last year, and police authorities in other cities and states are considering introducing something similar.

In Britain, meanwhile, we have our own problems with rape reporting. According to statistics from the six largest police forces, around 80 per cent of rapes in England and Wales went unreported in 2012 and 2013. Keir Starmer, Director of Public Prosecutions, has said that "innovative solutions" are needed to encourage rape and sexual assault victims to come forward.

A report released this week by Conservative Greater London Authority member Andrew Boff claims to have a solution. He proposes using technology to make reporting easier and more anonymous, and his most striking suggestion comes in the form of – you guessed it – an ATM.

This, the report argues, would allow people to report offences with some degree of anonymity and under the guise of an everyday activity: after an an assault, particularly by someone known to the victim, people are often "left in a position where they are unable to visit a police station, or telephone the emergency services due to a fear of being overheard". 

ATMs in the UK tend not to be grouped in special lobbies, as they are in most Indian banks, so the idea of a separate kiosk for reporting crimes is a little less workable. Instead, Boff proposes adapting some of the 36,000 existing ATMs on our streets to allow users to file a report. Their menu screen would look a little like this:

PIN key pads would also need to be adapted so you could type in words – but that's easily remedied with an alphanumeric keyboard like the one below (you remember, your Nokia probably had one):

There are issues with this – if you've ever drawn out cash on a busy London street, you know there's likely to be a queue behind you who could see what you're typing, presumably very slowly, on screen. But if the machines could take rudimentary information that would then be quickly followed up by police, it could certainly encourage victims to make the first contact. 

The report also recommends that the London Metropolitan police invests in an app which allows users to report crimes, then delete the app so no trace is left on their phone. This, like the ATM idea, would be particularly useful for those in controlling, abusive relationships. 

You can read the full report here


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CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

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Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.