Combatting Assault? There’s an App for That

More and more measures are being put into place to deter sexual assault on campuses nationwide as one in five women are affected throughout their college years. Such measures are now taking place in the form of smartphone apps. Most popular among young women, “personal safety apps” are a trend born out of both fear and necessity. Though a smartphone app is not likely to prevent an incident from occurring, the apps have benefits otherwise in providing a sense of security, alleviating fears and assisting first responders in reacting to emergencies.

SafeTrek is a student-created personal safety app. SafeTrek contacts local law enforcement when its user fails to keep physical contact with their smartphone. The program works like a mobile blue emergency phone pole. The user holds a sensor on the phone’s screen while they walk to their destination. When the sensor is released, the program asks for a passcode that, if not answered correctly, will contact law enforcement providing the user’s location based on the phone’s GPS services.

Though some feel apps like SafeTrek perpetuate fear, the aim and ultimate effect, of these apps is to relieve anxiety. Rather than carry a canister of pepper spray, smartphone owners can find solace in the device that rarely leaves their hands, right? Well, yes and no. Personal safety apps work great for those who have experienced trauma and find themselves under stress when out alone. Through their phones they are able to find relief in anxiety. However, strangers jumping from bushes is not as frequent a situation as popular culture may lead one to believe. According to the Department of Justice, only 18 percent of rapes are committed by strangers.

In fact, it may be best for everyone to look elsewhere. Some reviewers claim there are technological limitations that lead to a false sense of security with personal safety apps. The main concern is in location services. These apps rely on the built-in GPS features of smartphones, which, as anyone using Google Maps or some similar program knows, can be quite finicky. All those places lacking service (parking garages, anywhere underground, underwater, downtown areas with a multitude of buildings, etc.) are lacking the only thing that makes the apps worthwhile: location data.

Though one cannot doubt the feeling of safety that accompanies these apps, and the premise is undoubtedly a move in the right direction for deterring assault, it would be worth considering whether the developers are working toward prevention or feeding off the fears of certain demographics. Most personal safety apps come at a price and require friends and family also download the service. SafeTrek is a free app, but charges $3/month in-app for access to services.