Is This Dating App Normalizing Violence Against Women?

by Alyssa Spizzirro

Online dating apps are breeding grounds for men to become hypersensitive mouth-breathing trolls, but the app Happn takes the cake. If another user has the app, they can approximate the location where they met (or um, saw you) and essentially catcall you from the comfort of their own cell phone screen. Needless to say, I have my reservations.

A bad app could use some good PR. The non-profit Equality Now has partnered with Happn to raise awareness of violence against women. The campaign “One in Three”  is titled after the statistic refering to the number of women beaten, raped, and abused in their lifetime. It was launched on International Women’s Day. The shock-tactic campaign has brought some visibility to victims/survivors of violence, but at what cost?

Eerily reminiscent of the project “Tinder-Beater,” Happn features fake profiles of bruised women alongside user profiles. The fake profiles provide information about the frequency of abuse. There are risks in placing these images in this context. What could be worse than men ogling at pictures of girls and then, recognizing the campaign, sheepishly scrolling past the images? Is this tactic conditioning the viewer to become apathetic to the imagery? Does the message loose its impact?

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Not all victims/survivors of abuse show physical signs of abuse. It’s not that the image is too violent or shocking, but that it provides a false representation of what violence against women looks like. While snippets of information regarding abuse are good to share, it’s questionable how effective this is in preventing abuse. The campaign, while trying to be educational, can also have the potential to steer the direction of the conversation in the wrong way. It’s potentially dangerous to show the viewer a beautiful girl with a black eye and tell them that this is what violence against women looks like. It doesn’t always. Abuse and violence comes in all forms, to the point where the victim/survivor may not even know they’re being abused. Is this the right way to open a discourse about the horrible truth behind violence against women?

The good intentions are there. Here is a project targeting men, the biggest perpetrators of violence against women. Here is a project trying to create a dialogue about abuse and violence within a culture that often keeps it hidden. These things are important. Maybe online dating isn’t the best forum for this conversation, but perhaps that’s the point. Opening a dialogue about violence and abuse and putting it into the mainstream is difficult. I imagine that the question the One in Three innovators asked themselves was: How do we get people to pay attention? Well, we hear you. While it may serve as a shameless promotional story for Happn, at the very least, the resources that Equality Now provides are now spotlighted and promoted.

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