• Screenshot of Plan International's 'Free To Be' Online Map. (Plan International / Free To Be.)Source: Plan International / Free To Be.
Men and women who live in Melbourne can now access and use a new interactive tool, revealing the alleyways, streets and hangout hotspots where people feel the most unsafe and why.
Chloe Sargeant

28 Mar 2017 - 2:11 PM  UPDATED 28 Mar 2017 - 4:16 PM

A fascinating online interactive mapping tool, part of the campaign called 'Free To Be', details how safe various locations in Melbourne really are from a city-dweller's point of view.

The groundbreaking online campaign allowed participants to mark locations throughout the capital city as safe or unsafe (a green 'happy' pin to indicate a safe place, or a red 'sad' pin to indicate an unsafe place), and add notes to explain why the area made them feel safe or unsafe.

Created by children's charity Plan International Australia, the tool was designed in 2016 to 'reclaim the city' for people - particularly young women - by offering public anecdotal experiences that could be used by authorities such as police and councils to make Melbourne generally safer.

The map is now currently available online for members of the public to view. Melburnian men and women shared their experiences by listing unsafe spaces on the site - from 'creepy' alleyways to unlit pathways - and experiences of abuse, harassment, and sexual assault.  

We know which areas feel unsafe. But why?

This month, a team of researchers from Monash University's XYX Lab collaborated with Plan International Australia, and analysed the anecdotal data in order to figure out exactly what created a 'safe space' or 'unsafe space' in the minds of users.

During the three-month data collection process, which took place late last year, 1318 pins were dropped by around 1000 men and women. 

One woman who dropped a pin on a location on Lonsdale Street added the following comment:

"I rarely go out after dark in the city anymore after years of harassment [sic] from drunk men. To be catcalled, then verbally abused in a very aggressive [sic] manner if I don't respond or turn them down is incredibly scary. I don't like that they've won over the space but I don't want to be bashed or raped and the only way seems to be not for the men to stop but for me to leave."

Another dropped a pin on Little Collins Street and wrote: 

"At 9pm one night a group of 19-21 yr old men followed me for around a block in this area. They yelled profanities at me and I told them go away. I had to take shelter at a pub on Russell Street. I waited there for 30mins for people to come and pick me up."

"I avoid walking past this area while there is construction, as have had too many bad experiences being ogled, blatantly looked up and down, and comments made while I walk past," said one user about a busy section of Flinders St. 

On Swanston Street, where there is a large amount of red 'unsafe' dropped pins. One pin has a comment attached stating that a woman "was harassed and followed into a shop by a man trying to talk me into sleeping with him". Another says, "someone spanked my ass while waiting for new years day fireworks", and another explains "I've been asked by a man in this location if I had any nude photos of myself I could show him".

Some of the green pins around the CBD read, "I really love the Royal Arcade, it's light and vibrant and always clean with great shops. I have never felt unsafe here," and "Chinatown is always buzzing. Plenty of people around. Always feel safe".

"I don't like that they've won over the space but I don't want to be bashed or raped, and the only way seems to be not for the men to stop but for me to leave."

A representative from the research group told SMH that they noticed that keywords of 'safe' spaces were 'open', 'spacious', and 'welcoming'. They also noticed that safer spaces were places that had friendly and gentle advertising, banners, signage and shops - for example Little Cupcakes, Clementines and Doughnut Time. Some of this advertising was handwritten menu boards outside restaurants and cafes, which appeared to create a 'friendly' atmosphere.

The representative also told SMH that many of the 'unsafe/sad' spaces, boorish, bright, and masculine advertising was noticeably present - such as Mr Burger, Lord of the Fries, Hungry Jacks - plus gendered, sexual messaging and aggressive names and logos on surrounding shops. Many of the dropped pins had comments that mentioned incidents of sexual harassment, groping and assault occurred. 

Researchers also found that a location's density affected how safe people considered a place to be. For example, if an area was empty without security (particularly at night), people often found it unsafe. If an area was open and spacious but busy, it was usually considered safe. However, if a place was extremely busy with little room to move, it was usually considered 'unsafe' due to the threat of groping and grabbing that could occur under the guise of bodies pushing together.

Other elements that contributed to an area's perceived safeness included:

Research concluded that the top 'happy/safe' locations in Melbourne are Federation Square, Royal Arcade, and Melbourne Central, while the top 'sad/unsafe' spaces are Flinders Street, Docklands, and Southern Cross Station.

Deputy CEO of Plan International Australia, Susanne Legena told SBS when the 'Free to Be' map began: "one-in-three young women aged 15-to -19 don't feel safe coming into the city after dark, and one in four of them don't feel that they can take public transport after dark on their own".

"And we found the results really shocking because we do research all over the world with young women that we work with and some of the results show that young women in Australia feel more unsafe than their counterparts in places like Pakistan, Cairo, Delhi, Nicaragua."

"Some of the results show that young women in Australia feel more unsafe than their counterparts in places like Pakistan, Cairo, Delhi, Nicaragua."

Read more about Monash University XYX Lab's analysis HERE.
Have a more in-depth look at the 'Free to Be' map here: freetobe.crowdspot.com.au

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