As part of the 16-days of Activism Against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence 2021 campaign, we are uplifting community-led data collection initiatives working to uncover the scope of SGBV in the United States. 

Also available in Spanish, translated by Indira Cornelio

Datasets about sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) can support advocacy campaigns by exposing patterns, persuading key stakeholders, helping identify preventative measures, and amplifying the stories of those most marginalized. However, “official records” of SGBV incidents are often incomplete or intentionally distorted. Survivors are afraid to come forward, knowing their stories may be dismissed or discredited, reports are often biased or misclassified, or sometimes the police themselves are the perpetrators. Additionally, careless data collection can lead to re-traumatization and harmful consequences when personal information is exposed. Grassroots data collection can be a more promising path forward.

Community-led organizations and initiatives are crucial in this work as they are often better positioned to respect cultural sensitivities, practice trauma-informed interviewing, and gather data with the intention of using it to create change. Transforming data into an advocacy campaign requires commitment, creative thinking, and collaboration. Below we highlight some initiatives that embody these practices and offer guidance on interviewing survivors of SGBV and ethical data collection.

Sovereign Bodies Institute – MMIWG2

“MMIWG2 data belong to the families first and foremost. The MMIWG2 database is always in progress as new data are submitted by families and community members, and retrieved from newspapers, social media, historical archives, public records, and missing persons databases. We have a transparent process for free data access that respects the privacy and the deep grief many families are still navigating.” Sovereign Bodies Institute Board of Directors Statement

Image from the “Zuya Wicayuonihan: Honoring Warrior Women” report

The Sovereign Bodies Institute (SBI) database tracks cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people (MMIWG2). SBI “builds on Indigenous traditions of data gathering and knowledge transfer to create, disseminate, and put into action research on gender and sexual violence against Indigenous people.” 

The initial scope of their work covered the U.S. and Canada dating back to 1900. They’ve recently expanded to have a global focus. SBI produces in-depth reports on intersectional issues such as how SGBV is impacted by man camps, or labor camps built to staff extractive industry projects, such as the Keystone XL pipeline. 

In partnership with survivors, allies, and family members of MMIWG2 people, SBI published an Organizing Toolkit that offers case studies and practical guidance on data collection, investigations, advocacy campaigns, and addressing trauma and healing. SBI also offers webinars centering the stories of survivors, like this webinar on the challenges of collecting data on violence against two-spirit and native LGBTQ people.

“Beneath the Surface” – Police Sexual Violence

“Survivors of police sexual violence are rarely heard from or discussed in either conversation, and their experiences generally do not drive organizing and advocacy in either context.” – “Shrouded In Silence”

“Beneath the Surface” is a collaboration between the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) and the Invisible Institute, a Chicago-based community journalism organization. The project reviews over 26,000 complaint records filed against Chicago Police from 2011-2015. The files were made available through a lawsuit against the Chicago Police and Freedom of Information Act requests. Researchers, volunteers from impacted communities, and a customized algorithm are reviewing the documents for information about how sexual violence committed by police is categorized and reported.

Image shows how primary complaint categories often obscure police sexual violence

The project draws attention to how police sexual violence often goes unseen because complaints against officers are categorized by a primary complaint category, such as “illegal search”. Because of this, details of sexual violence are obscured and left out of most data analyses, and victims are neglected. The aim of this work is to make it easier to understand the scope of the problem, provide insight on the impact of police sexual violence on cisgender women and transgender people, and help groups mobilize around accountability efforts. 

“Beneath the Surface” builds on work documenting police sexual violence, such as the book and database project “Invisible No More”, which tracks police violence against Black women and women of color. The “Shrouded in Silence” report by Interrupting Criminalization, also offers an overview on the prevalence of police sexual violence along with an action-oriented curriculum for organizers working to confront the issue. 

Kilómetro 0 – Tracking Femicides in Puerto Rico

“Every seven days we suffer [femicide] again…We have been studying this misfortune for years from our different spaces of struggle, looking for the accurate data that the authorities try to hide, making emergency calls, trying to understand the dimensions of femicides in our country, seeking public policy solutions, executing community strategies for prevention, education and activism.” – “The Persistence of Indolence: Femicides in Puerto Rico”

“The Persistence of Indolence: Femicides in Puerto Rico” (español) is a report published by Kilómetro 0, a Puerto Rican organization that fights state violence through data collection and analysis, storytelling and reporting, community trainings and engagements. Their report analyzes data from various sources on femicides in Puerto Rico from 2014-2018 as a means to promote public policy recommendations aimed at reducing and eradicating femicide. Read the executive summary in English here.

Chart showing discrepancies between police data and Km0’s data

The report found that Puerto Rico has one of the highest femicide rates in the world and outlined notable discrepancies in how the Police Department report on femicides. For example, the Police Department reported between 11-27% fewer cases than the group’s report. They note, “​​Such substantial mistakes year after year suggest that the Police Department neither updates nor is interested in checking the validity of their own records.”

Kilómetro 0 also recently launched an online database of police use-of-force and sexual violence incidents, which pulls from testimonies, news reports, social media, and other police datasets. 


WITNESS Resources for Ethical SGBV Data Collection and Video Documentation

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