Free to Be (External link) is a crowd-mapping tool that enables young women to identify and share public spaces that make them feel uneasy and scared or happy and safe.

In a recent study in Melbourne, 30 per cent of respondents said they did not feel safe in public places after dark. One of the most common comments from participants who reported feeling unsafe, was about how poorly the area was lit. These areas also correlated with where women experienced cat-calling and unsolicited advances.

However, the research also found that very bright and over lit spaces do not correlate with young women’s perceptions of safety. In fact, sites with higher light levels than average were more likely to be perceived as unsafe sites. By flooding a space with light, there can be a sharp drop-off of light beyond paths. This contrast can be disorientating and can make people feel less safe.

Layered lighting – where there are multiple light sources and the reflective values of surfaces are taken into consideration – is what makes women feel most safe.

When trying to improve the built environment for safety and security then, it’s important to:

  • listen to people’s voices
  • draw on these experiences to tailor an effective solution
  • be careful with how lighting is installed, as flooding an area can make people feel unsafe

Crowd-mapping to understand public perceptions of space is becoming more popular. The Victorian State Government launched two pilot gender equality maps (External link) across Darebin City Council and Melton City Council in October 2018. People were asked to drop a pin and add a comment on locations where they had experienced gender equality or inequality. The pilot ran for four months and had nearly 3,000 visitors to the maps. The results are currently being assessed and should be made public later this year.

For further information on the latest crime prevention research, or for guidance on how to design the most effective crime prevention projects, please contact the Research and Innovation team in Community Crime Prevention Unit communitycrimeprevention@justice.vic.gov.au (External link)