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Tagging perpetrators

Creating a "tag", "mark", or "brand" for perpetrators would create a powerful disincentive for sexual harassment. Instead of women throwing chili powder on their harrassers, they could use this product (spray paint, a semi-permanent colored powder or paint mixture, etc) to brand them. When paired with a strong education/awareness campaign in a community, this association would provide immediate punishment to help condition men not to harass women. The campaign would need to create a very strong association between specific harassment behaviors and the specific substance/color used to brand perpetrators.

Photo of Tasha Russman
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This idea has a few key elements:

     1. Operant Conditioning:

This is the psychological concept that a behavior is influenced by its consequences; rewards promote a behavior, while punishments discourage it. In India, there currently exists no immediate punishment for sexual harassment, nor reward for good behavior. Under the best of circumstances a rapist may be sued by a victim, however, a court date is rarely ever assigned. To discourage sexual harassment, there needs to be an immediate, unfavorable and relevant consequence to specific behaviors. 

    2. Indian Context:

      a) Societal Pressure- Societal pressure is a driver for behavior everywhere, but is especially influential in Indian life. Stigma affects not only the individual, but also his/her family, friends, community, neighbors, etc. For this reason, it is an incredibly effective means of keeping someone from doing something that would make him/her stand out. If there was a way of shining a spotlight on perpatrators, it could be a powerful disincentive for sexual harassment behavior.
       b) Color- In India, colors are everywhere, and carry various associations from celebration to purity to political affiliation or religion. If done well, perhaps a specific color/substance could be affiliated with negativity and/or the disgrace of having harassed someone.

   3. Knowing versus following through

Rape, eve-teasing, and sexual harassment have received a lot of attention in Indian society, but lack direct impact to specific undesirable behaviors. Media, legislation, and education programs (however limited they may be) have contributed to a public discourse on the topic across various levels of society. However, there is still no direct cause-effect relationship between harassing a woman and any negative consequence. Even the few rape cases that get reported rarely ever make it to court. Morals don't always lead to follow-through. Like a child with his hand in the cookie jar, tempted men will be much less likely to act if they know there will be direct undesirable consequences.

And a few challenges:

1. Succesfully conditioning people to associate a color/substance to a certain behavior could be incredibly tricky, time-consuming, and potentially very context-based (and therefore difficult to scale). 

2. Control - how to make sure this substance isn't misused? If/when people are "tagged" undeservedly, the efficacy of the whole project goes down the drain. 

3. Accountability- even if used effectively, what happens if/when someone, after being tagged, lies anyway, and denies the act?

...All constructive feedback is very much welcome!

Explain your idea in one sentence.

Use societal pressure to create a direct disincentive for acts of sexual harassment.

What is the need you are trying to solve?

This idea addresses the need for concrete, direct, and relevant repercussions for acts of sexual harassment.

Who will benefit from this idea and how would you monitor its success?

Beneficiaries: anyone potentially at risk of sexual harassment (generally girls/women). Monitoring: incidence of specific sexual harassment behaviors could be measured over periodic intervals, as could perception of safety in relevant communities.

Who would be best equipped to implement this idea in the real world? You? Your organisation? Another organisation or entity?

Research/create effective "tagging" substance & color: individual/organization with experience in design and Indian context Implement pilot: individual/organization with close ties to a specific pilot community and corresponding community leaders

Where should this idea be implemented?

Pilot should be in a small Indian community.

How might you prototype this idea and test some of the assumptions behind it?

Suggestions here are welcome.


Join the conversation:

Photo of DeletedUser


I like this idea very much. Perhaps the idea of ink being a "mark of shame" could be broadcast through local media whether it be billboard, handbill, radio, tv or internet...

Photo of DeletedUser


I love this idea.

Perhaps a sachet the woman could pop and get the ink all over her hand, then hand-print the guys face, arm, whatever? I think this would address the misuse issue raised by Neysan below, and it would be a stronger piece of evidence for the police to prosecute with.

Photo of DeletedUser


Interesting idea Tasha. My only issue is that some people (perpetrators) might not be influenced by what other people think of them.

Photo of Ashwin Goutham Gopi

I know I'm jumping the gun, but do you know what would be an analogy for the Indian context? The ink they use when you vote. It marks your finger and cannot be erased, it takes a few weeks to disappear. Meanwhile, it is used a symbol of responsibility, of having voted. This ink is controlled tightly to prevent misuse, and carries a symbolic meaning. So perhaps looking at that system to see if it can be replicated in a different context would be useful.

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Interesting idea... I like the idea of adding a responsibility symbol.

Photo of Meena Kadri

Interesting stuff, Tasha. As you develop your idea further, you might like to check out these tips on prototyping and try some part of this idea out in your own community: Looking forward to seeing what you come up with!