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Snapchat frees sex abuse survivors to talk

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Media captionWatch: Snapchat used for abuse survivor stories

Snapchat filters are normally used for playful interactions between friends, but in India they have been employed for a far more serious purpose - to help survivors of sexual abuse tell their stories.

Staring into the lens, the survivors have found themselves able to speak candidly, without fear of identification or repercussions.

Yusuf Omar, the mobile editor at the Hindustan Times has been using the filters to disguise the faces of women he interviews, while still allowing facial expressions to be visible.

"Eyes are the window to the soul," says Yusuf. "And because of the face-mapping technology that Snapchat uses to make these filters work you don't lose that.

"The dragon filter one of the girls used actually exaggerated them, so you can clearly see her expressions as she speaks."

Gaining control

Sexual abuse is a huge problem in India, with an estimated 27.5 million women in the country affected.

But it's also under-reported as many survivors don't come forward because they fear the impact being identified would have on their future.

It's illegal to identify victims of sexual abuse in India, as in many other countries. So using technology like this allows them to speak openly while safeguarding their privacy.

"I was five years old when it happened," said the girl who was disguised as a dragon.

"Someone kidnapped me from Hyderabad to Mysore and locked me in a room. They tortured me at home and never let me go out."

Yusuf said the women chose their own filters, "so they instantly had a feeling of control".

Image copyright Kerry Alexandra
Image caption Snapchat allows users to add real-time effects to their pictures and videos, using face detection technology

"They liked the fact that they could see the final image in front of them and did not have to rely on me to adequately hide their identities.

"Once the phone was set up each girl was left alone to record their story.

"The girls I spoke to were very comfortable using smartphones and apps like Snapchat," Yusuf said. "It's something they are familiar with because it's something they do with their friends.

"So doing it like this was like telling a friend - dignified and discreet - rather than having a huge camera shoved in their faces, which is intimidating.

"Using the inside camera, they felt like they were looking in a mirror.

"I hope that empowering survivors by giving them a voice will go some way to breaking down the stigma associated with suffering sexual abuse, not just in India but around the world."

Additional reporting by BBC UGC and Social News team

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