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January 25, 2022

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Women's safety

Women’s safety campaigners left ‘insulted’ by Home Office backing of women’s safety app

Women’s safety campaigners are calling the Home Office’s backing of an app that allows users to track their friends’ journeys home “insulting to women and girls”, claiming it does nothing to tackle the issue of male violence against women.

phone hot lineThe new app provides anyone walking home at night with a monitored route on their phone. If the walker moves more than 40 meters away from the route or stops for more than three minutes, the app asks if they are OK. If there is no reply, nominated “guardians” receive a notification on their phone. They can then check on the person in question and alert the police if necessary.

Home Office Minister, Rachel Maclean, claimed the scheme should be used as part of a wider project promoting safer streets for women.

She says: “We need a whole-of-society approach to tackling violence against women and girls, and I welcome initiatives from the private sector that deliver on this aim.”

Ann Birley from Reclaim These Streets, set up after the murder of Sarah Everard, told the Guardian, safety apps did nothing to tackle the underlying problem of male violence against women.

She argues: “We already share our location, we already ask our friends to text us when they get home, we already wear bright clothes, stick to the well-lit routes and clutch our keys between our fingers.

“It still isn’t enough. Women and girls, and the steps we take to stay safe every day, are not the problem. The problem is male violence makes us unsafe.”

The not-for-profit app, Path Community, is being trialled by approximately 500 people including Metropolitan police officers in Southward and Lambeth in south London. The app forms routes avoiding unlit streets, alleys or areas known for antisocial behaviour.

Domestic violence campaigners have also expressed concerns about safety apps, claiming they could be misused by abusers. Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, Farah Nazeer, says they could, “potentially extend an abusuer’s reach beyond the home, controlling women in spaces they previosuly felt safe and free.”

She continues: “There is so much work to be done to increase survivors’ confidence in reporting abuse to the police, tackle mysogyny with public awareness and education and, of course, provide adequate funding to services supporting survivors.”

The Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence, Jess Phillips, adds: “This seems like a sticking plaster instead of dealing with the actual problem that is men’s violence against women.”

Using smartphone apps to ensure public safety is a growing movement. In November 2021, SHP reported on an app being used by employers to allow workers to quickly call for help whilst working remotely.

In December, SHP interviewed a representative from CriticalArc about the ‘SafeZone’ app, a digital software being used to safeguard university students, particularly females, as they travel across campus.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said its Tackling Violence against Women and Girls strategy launched in 2021, included initiatives and funding to target the potential perpetrators and protect potential victims, including the pilot of the StreetSafe online tool, which allows the public to anonymously report areas where they feel safe.

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