New Scientist, the online magazine of the Royal Society, has revealed that a Walmart in Birmingham, Alabama, will be installing cameras to monitor the behaviour of staff who have been accused of rape and sexual assault.
The new system will be rolled out to other Walmart stores across the UK, but in the UK this has been largely left to local police and social services.
A spokesperson for the store told New Scientist that the cameras would be installed in “some areas of the store” and that it would be “proud” to work with the public to “help protect the safety and wellbeing of all our customers”.
“We are committed to making our stores safe places for everyone to work and play and are confident that we can deliver the best service for our customers,” the spokesperson said.
Walmart’s announcement came in response to a report from The National Centre for Sexual Health and Violence (NCSHV), which said that the majority of rape allegations against Walmart staff were not taken seriously and that “at most” one in five reported incidents were “not substantiated”.
The NCSHV said that sexual violence victims were being pressured into accepting false claims of rape in order to avoid receiving help.
“If the allegations are not substantiated, survivors often face harassment, physical abuse, sexual assault and/or death,” the organisation wrote in a report, “Surviving Sexual Assault: How to Avoid the Risks of False Rape Allegations”.
The National Center for Sexuality Health and Safety (NCSHS) has previously warned that the way sexual assault is dealt with at the supermarket is “broken”, and it said that Walmart is “clearly aware of the problems” with the system.
“The company has also acknowledged that the systems are broken and has committed to ensuring that its sexual assault response team is fully staffed, trained and supported,” the report said.
“We know this because they have committed to providing sexual assault crisis support for staff and the wider community through the use of an ‘on-call team’ and have committed a further £100,000 towards a dedicated team to support victims of sexual assault across the country.”
Walmart’s new cameras are set to be installed at the same Walmart store where two women were allegedly sexually assaulted in 2016, according to NCSHS.
“It’s clear from the NCSSHV report that the problem with this type of surveillance is that it’s not being done effectively, it’s being done in a way that’s not appropriate, and it’s causing a lot of problems,” NCSHV’s deputy chief executive, Rachelle Sayer, told the BBC.
“They’re doing a great job of not only taking action but also providing evidence and resources.”
The new CCTV system will also be installed on another Walmart in Texas, where the rape of a 23-year-old woman last year sparked nationwide protests, as well as at a McDonald’s in Wisconsin, and a Walmart store in Florida.
In response, Walmart has promised to make the systems “better and faster” and said that “the majority of complaints” are handled “appropriately and professionally”.
However, critics say the new system “raises serious questions about Walmart’s commitment to accountability, and the company’s commitment in responding to sexual violence.”
“The new Walmart CCTV system should be a wake-up call for all of us, not just for Walmart,” Sarah Jaffe, a campaigner for women’s rights group Sisters Uncut, told The Independent.
“This is a system that should be designed with real-world applications in mind, and Walmart should take steps to implement the recommendations of the NCSHS.”
Walmart did not immediately respond to The Independent’s request for comment.