Right now, all eyes are turned to issues of assault and personal safety. These are massive (and crucial) conversations that we absolutely have to have. Somewhere in the mix, there is a place to talk about how tech fits into the broader cultural context. Can an app help you prevent or process personal danger? Maybe. But it’s only one piece of the bigger puzzle.
We look at five apps that hope to help jumpstart progress by keeping people safer.
OneLove My Plan
For all the insistence on stranger danger, much of the violence in our society comes from people we know, even people we love. And part of the problem is that it can be difficult for us to realize that we’re in a damaging relationship, or see how it’s harming those we love. MyPlan, developed by OneLove, is an app that guides you through a process designed by, among others, Johns Hopkins researchers, to determine whether there’s risk in a relationship and what action to take.
Red Panic Button
If you’re in a situation beginning to worry you, the Red Panic Button app offers a simple way to get out. Configure it with contacts and press the button that’s on your lockscreen. It’ll contact friends via text and email with relevant information like time and GPS coordinates, and it can also be configured to post to your social media accounts. It’s not a perfect form of protection, but it can offer peace of mind.
Kitestring is sort of a text version of the dead man’s switch. Not an app, it’s a bot that regularly texts you to check in. If you don’t, it will send an emergency text to your contact. You can set a custom time for Kitestring to check in just by texting. It has the added advantage of a built-in excuse. If a situation feels weird, whether you’re afraid for your safety or just want out, Kitestring gives you an ideal premise to bail.
If you’re willing to let your friends and family livetrack you, bSafe has a useful feature that uses your phone’s GPS to give your contacts in the app your exact coordinates. Granted, not all of us want everyone we know to know exactly where we are at all times. This app will require a level of trust and respect between contacts. But if you’ve got that level of trust and respect, then it’s a highly useful safety tool.
One of the reasons so much abuse and harassment happens is, bluntly, the harasser thinks they’ll get away with it. Hollaback! is an app designed to counteract that by allowing people to report incidents, filing details like location and incident reports. Not everybody wants to discuss what happens to them, but it’s good to have the choice.
We should note that personal safety is just one aspect of the complicated problems we’re struggling to resolve as a society, and that the safety of any one person in our society is not just their responsibility, but ours too. These apps are merely the second line of defense. We need to change our society in some fundamental ways to ensure these apps will, someday, not be necessary. To that end, take the time to get informed about sexual assault and domestic violence. Ask yourself what your assumptions about these forms of violence are, and how you can push back against them. And if you need help, don’t hesitate to contact the National Sexual Assault Helpline at 1-800-656-4673 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (they also have online chat help available).