Ever felt unsafe while walking alone at night or vulnerable to sexual assault? Now there’s an app for that.
Billed as “safety with strings attached,” Kitestring enables users to program emergency contacts, location and the duration of your trip:
At the end of the trip, Kitestring sends a check-in text that the user responds to if all’s well. Users can even specify a code word to prove it’s them responding. And if the text goes unanswered, the app alerts your emergency contacts:
There are plenty of other apps designed to help keep people safe while out alone. OnWatch and Circle Of 6 can share a user’s current location with loved ones. bSafe can ping emergency contacts with one touch, and record audio and video evidence. And Nirbhaya alerts user’s contacts just by shaking the phone.
While anyone can use these apps, by and large they’re geared toward women. And of course, feeling safe is priceless and necessary while living in a misogynist rape culture, but I must point out a few issues with these apps:
- They reify the myth that strangers on the street are the rapists, when approximately 2/3 of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the survivor.
- Twenty-five percent of sexual assaults involve alcohol. Intoxicated people — those who are unable to consent to sex and are otherwise vulnerable — probably cannot operate the app appropriately, thus rendering it useless for them.
- They place the impetus on women to prevent sexual assault. See also: Victim blaming.
- They don’t actually do anything until someone hasn’t responded to a check-in text, which would mean the physical damage is already done. Apps do nothing to guard against the intimidation and psychological effects of sexual harassment.
I know for me, being alone in public as a woman can be terrifying. It doesn’t matter where: On the bus or the train. While biking. Or grocery shopping. Or walking the dog. Or in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. I’m vulnerable in these heterosexual spaces. Sometimes they try to look up my skirt. Sometimes they holler at me from across the street. Sometimes they grab my arm as I walk away. Sometimes they follow me all the way home. Sometimes they take my picture. But it’s always something, nearly every time I leave the house. And until there’s a forcefield app, there’s no way my smartphone is protecting me.
So, in practicality, Kitestring and similar services may be useful because sexual assault and harassment is very real, and is experienced nearly every single day by every single woman no matter what — regardless of whether it’s perpetrated by a stranger or an acquaintance, or is physical or verbal. The threat of sexual violence is a part of our lives, especially for feminine-presenting women and/or transgender women.
It makes sense to try to protect ourselves, to have someone watching over us — be it a real, live friend or a smartphone — in case we don’t make it home. Women have to be prepared for sexual harassment and rape in the same way we have to be prepared for inclement weather during their commutes — it may rain, so carry an umbrella, and you may get raped, so check in with your Kitestring app.
Nothing is more scary to me than unbounded masculinity. We socialize men to be aggressive and sexual; women are there for the taking, and they always need an attractive one on their arm to be a real man. We socialize women to keep their legs shut and their clothes modest so they aren’t blatantly asking to be raped — because men’s sexuality shouldn’t be and can’t be controlled.
I don’t experience harassment in queer spaces or while traveling in packs or when accompanied by someone who is publicly read as male. But I should be able to feel safe on my own.
So, these apps will likely lend some peace of mind to those who experience street harassment or who fear sexual assault while in public. But it’s by no means a real solution. Sexual assault is a systemic, societal issue, and only rapists can stop rape.