Tech revolution for women's safety
Type in "apps to protect women" on your Google search bar. You will be surprised to see the great number of women safety app results there are out there - from articles listing the most innovative apps to protect women from harassment to download links to free apps to tackle domestic violence. Now type "apps to protect men" on your search bar. You will find that there is only one link to an article on an app that helps men in situations of harassment - all other links diverge into apps for women to rate men, apps to help women stop street harassment, articles on how abusive men track their partners, etc. The results you obtain for each are worlds apart which might make you think that perhaps men and women go through situations that are completely different. Do women face a higher risk of harassment? Are they at risk much more often than men? With pages and pages of articles on the "best women safety apps", it seems so.
In today's world, pepper sprays are being substituted by technology solutions that only require a smartphone which many people own. In the past decade, lots of safety technology apps have been developed, many of which are targeted to women. From whistles to get bystanders' attention, GPS trackers to lead people to your location, automatic video recordings to capture proof of a crime, etc. We're yet to see the app that can actually stop a crime from happening but in the meantime, these new technologies serve as tools to alert of any danger and potentially get help faster.
One of the features that many safety apps offer is a tracking system - you allow a list of contacts to see your location at certain times and can even activate a distress alarm that will notify them that you're in danger and your exact location. Mobile apps like bSafe, StaySafe or Circle of 6 are all based on this GPS functionality. bSafe alerts with your exact location when you press the app's alarm and it also records audio and video from your phone in case you want to present it to the police later. Over 1 million people in 123 countries have downloaded bSafe already.
But, what about if you're not holding your phone at the precise moment of an attack? The safety app OneScream has developed an alarm system that is activated by voice or more specifically by screaming. A panic scream automatically triggers the app and a text message and an automated call with your location is then sent to your nominated contact. On top of this, the phone line stays open so your contact can hear what's happening and get help fast.
SOS Stay Safe is another safety app which doesn't require unlocking your phone to activate it, just by shaking your phone or pressing the power button repeatedly you trigger it. The app then sends an emergency message, your location, a one-minute audio clip and battery level of your phone to your emergency contacts via email and SMS.
Another tracking app that has proved to be very popular is Life360, which enables pre-selected contacts to track your location live. Although this app is not strictly described as a safety app, it does offer the same feature as the previously mentioned but without the distress alarm functionality.
Noise emitting safety technology
Safety apps come in different shapes and sizes (and features). With apps such as Scream Alarm, you can rely on your phone to get a loud scream out there to alert bystanders that you're in danger. By pressing the activation button of the app, your phone will start emitting a loud screaming noise.
Similarly, ROBOCOPP is a handheld device that operates as a modern version of a whistle or alarm. Described as a "sound grenade", this small device acts as a deterrent. Once you pull the pin out of the gadget, it emits a 120-decibel (ambulance-level) alarm which will sound continuously for 30 minutes unless the pin is returned to the device.
PanicGuard on the other hand is an app which combines both tracking and noise emitting features. The app can be activated by shaking the smartphone and it will track the location of the user, record video and audio and send an alert to the user's emergency contacts. If the app is then shaken again, it emits a loud alarm sound and turns on the flash on the mobile handset.
Women, main target of safety apps and gadgets
As stated in the opening paragraph of this article, when searching for safety apps, you come across a never-ending list of articles on safety apps for women. In fact, when searching for the ROBOCOPP device, the first site selling it is college dorm supply e-shop and the model wearing the device is in fact a female student. Does this mean that women in college should be protecting themselves from potential dangers? Or even worse, has that become a fact and actually normalised?
According to the survey results of the 2014 White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, 10% of female college students in the USA experienced some form of sexual assault. Furthermore, the agency found that 4% of students had been raped during the 2014 academic year, and more than 5% had encountered sexual battery, including unwanted kissing or forced touching, as reported in The Guardian.
A United Nations statistical report compiled from data recorded in 65 countries showed that more than 250,000 cases of rape or attempted rape were recorded by police annually. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 71 men are raped at some point in their lives.
Apps like bSafe or devices like ROBOCOPP can't prevent crimes from happening but they can alert people and aid victims in getting help on time.