• Do attack alarms help to address gender-based violence?

    By Johanna De Wolf

    **This piece contains references to content that some readers may find upsetting or triggering**

    The debate

    During the 2008 mayoral election in Rome, there was fierce debate over how to crack down on sex crime after a young woman was raped and stabbed in the city. One of the candidates, Francesco Rutelli, suggested that women be given bracelets which track their whereabouts and transmit signals to nearby police stations in order to keep them safe from attackers.

    However, this argument did not go unchallenged. Rutelli’s opponent, Gianni Alemmano, rejected the idea on the basis that it promotes a “do-it-yourself” attitude to safety. Such an attitude can be said to promote a culture of victim blaming. Products such as anti-rape jewellery, anti-date rape drug nail varnish, anti-rape jeans and anti-rape underwear all make the victim responsible for their own safety. If the victim did not use any of these products, then they may be blamed for not going far enough to ensure their own protection. This instills the idea that women should be told to protect themselves from rape, rather than men being told that they should not rape women.

    It is also argued that attack alarms could be ineffective. Victims may freeze up when they are under attack. This means they would either be unable or would not think to press a button to call for help in order to prevent the attack. Moreover, many people who hear an attack alarm going off will not know that it is an attack alarm, not want to get involved, or think that it is somebody playing a practical joke. There is a further argument that attack alarms provide people with a false sense of security when they are out and about, and therefore encourage them to take risks, such as walking home alone at night.

    However, this second argument can be said to fuel the myth that rape only happens in dark alleyways late at night, and is committed by strange men unknown to the victim. For example, a 22-year-old student from Glasgow invented the ‘Personal Guardian’ GPS rape alarm after a woman was raped in her apartment complex “by a stranger lurking in the shadows.” However, 90% of rape victims know the perpetrator; more than half of the victims of the most serious sexual offences are victimized by their partner; and in 2010, only 25% of the female victims of rape and sexual assault were victimized by a stranger. Attack alarms could therefore be of little use in the majority of rape and sexual assault cases because victims will be less likely to use one in their own home against a partner or family member.

    Therefore, education about consent and healthy relationships may be a better way to ensure the safety of women and the prevention of rape than attack alarms. However, attack alarms could provide peace of mind and contribute to the prevention of some rape and sexual assault cases, as well as being a useful tool in providing evidence for prosecution. It is widely recognised that rape has a very low conviction rate but some alarms can record audio which could be used in court. Therefore, while attack alarms are not a long-term solution, they could have benefits such as bringing perpetrators to justice.

    The market

    After a woman was brutally gang raped and murdered in Delhi in 2012, technological companies in India have put their efforts into creating apps which will make women feel safer. FightBack is a free smartphone app developed by the company Tech Mahindra which tracks the user’s location and gives her the option to press a panic button if she feels that she is in danger.

    With the prevalence of smartphone technology, there has been a surge in applications dedicated to promoting personal safety. Most apps use a GPS tracking device which sends out a signal, letting others know your location. Some apps sound an alarm when activated, others discreetly contact trusted friends or family members, and some contact the emergency services. Here are a few examples of some of the apps which are available:

    Name of the App What It Is / Does Price
    bSafe Privately alerts friends that you’ve arrived at your destination

    Sends information about your changing GPS location

    Setups fake phone calls to get you out of uncomfortable situations

    Offers an audible alarm when you’re in real danger and starts broadcasting a video captured by your phone

    Free
    SafeTrek An emergency app that alerts the police of your whereabouts

    When the app is launched, you place your thumb on the Safe button. When you release your thumb, you are asked to enter a code. If you do not enter the code, the police are notified

    Free
    VithU Quicker and more discreet than dialing an emergency number, this app only requires you to push the power button twice when you’re in danger. This sends an SOS alert to your list of trusted contacts with information on your physical location

    Messages are sent out every two minutes with your updated physical location

    Free
    Circle of 6 Lets you connect with up to 6 trusted contacts

    The app has different notifications that the user can tap on to alert their trusted 6

    The app can also connect you to the appropriate authorities e.g. if you tapped on rape or sexual assault or relationship abuse it will come up with the appropriate hotline

    Suitable for high school and college students

    Free
    Guardly Instantly connects you to the emergency authorities if you are in danger

    It allows you to specify different contacts for different types of emergency e.g. ‘Walking Home Alone’

    Free
    Companion Allows family, friends and local police to keep an eye on you when you’re on the move

    Enter your destination, select some contacts to be your Companions and they can see a live map of your progress

    Certain things will alert the app e.g. if you start running, don’t make it to your destination on time, your phone falls on the floor. You have 15 seconds to respond before the app automatically alerts your companions

    You can call the police from the app with two taps

    Free
    IWitness Captures audio and video which is sent to a secure server along with your GPS location

    Emits a steady beam of light from your phone if needed

    You can touch the phone to activate emergency mode which automatically calls the police, sounds an alarm and sends a text to pre-chosen trusted contacts letting them know that you feel endangered, along with your GPS location, video link, and a message asking them to contact you

    Free but requires an iWitness subscription
    Tara Has red, amber and green colour coded alert levels

    GPS locator

    Emergency alarm is activated by shaking

    One button 999 dialer

    Up to 3 custom messages per alert level

    Free
    SafeTrip Aims at keeping people safe while they’re travelling

    Lets your friends and family know if you’ve securely reached your destination

    You can choose whether your trusted contacts can see your whole trip or are just alerted when you have arrived

    Free

    Suppliers

    The University of Bristol supplies free attack alarms to students. They are also available from Avon and Somerset Police.

    The ‘Personal Guardian’ mentioned above is free but requires a monthly cost of between £5-£10 www.pickprotection.com

    Companies which supply attack alarms:

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