by Raquel Rosario Sánchez
Wednesday, 13
October 2021

Stop exploiting women’s fears

There's a whole industry around keeping us 'safe'
by Raquel Rosario Sánchez

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 keychainsanti-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:

This Scrunchie Could Save Your Life. If you push the button two times, it immediately texts up-to five friends/family members to let them know that you need help. The text message sends them a link to your exact GPS location. You can also set your phone to play an alarm to deter the attacker or attract other people nearby.
- Invisawear

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.

Join the discussion

  • Men are at more risk of violence than women, so if there was a simple ‘do-as-you’re-told’ answer to eradicate violence, men would welcome it. Unfortunately, the real world isn’t like that.
    That’s why you get young men carrying knives ‘for protection’, men learning martial arts to be able to defend themselves, men avoiding bad pubs or neighbourhoods and known thugs, men expecting police to prevent violence. It’s is not a gender thing. Men would love it if there was a solution beyond just handwaving ‘something must be done’.

  • “But male violence will only end when men, collectively, share the brunt of changing attitudes and behaviour.”

    If that were true then violence would have disappeared from human civilisation thousands of years ago, since all cultures have moral codes which prohibit violence. All the evidence points to actual declines in violence being strongly correlated with increases in prosperity and better deterrents through enforcement and detection.

    The idea that men commit crimes because of their culture is not only wrong but is also sexist and ignorant. It adds nothing to the debate but fuels a narrative of fear and division, pushed largely for the personal and political gain of privileged groups, who make a tidy profit from todays grievance industry.

    If feminists really want to reduce violence in society, which affects men to a far greater degree than women, I would suggest they study economics, rather then gender studies, and apply the lessons they learn to make an actual difference to the world.

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