Earlier this week, Downing Street signalled support for a mobile app that would track women’s journeys and summon the police if they feel under threat. The initiative came from BT, following public outrage over the murder of 33-year-old marketing executive Sarah Everard at the hands of a police officer, in March.
The emergency app, potentially under the number 888, has already won the support of home secretary Priti Patel and the Prime Minister’s office, which “welcomed this sort of innovation”. It’s understandable the Home Office would be eager to do something — anything — to reassure a distrustful public that it takes male violence against women seriously. But at a time when so many specialised domestic abuse shelters and rape crisis centre are facing cuts, threats to funding and closure, it is jarring to see politicians eager to throw £50 million at an app that has been condemned as a “sticking plaster solution”.
This app is just another example of a culture that puts the onus of staying safe on women (as opposed to the male attackers who prey on them), and therefore reinforces victim-blaming. There’s a whole industry marketing all sorts of devices designed to “keep women safe”, from jewellery that sends an SOS message, unnoticeable keychains, anti-rape underwear and even a hairbrush that it’s actually a dagger. For $139 (£109), you can buy a hair accessory that, when activated, calls for help. US brand Invisawear describes their blue scrunchie as:
Women’s legitimate fears of male violence have thus become an industry. Instead of dealing with the root causes, our fears are marketed back to us so that when abuse does happen, we’re blamed for not protecting ourselves enough. Like all women I know, I still deploy endless strategies and devices to try to stay safe. From birth, girls and women are socialised to be on constant alert for a potential assault by a strange man, even though we know we’re more likely to be attacked by our partners and family members.
The only transformative development we’ve witnessed following the high-profile murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa has required no technology. Across the UK, there’s been an increased and sustained interest from men organising and joining groups to tackle the violence their peers commit. But male violence will only end when men, collectively, share the brunt of changing attitudes and behaviour. There’s no app for that.