Girl power: what to look for when you need an app to protect yourself
We’re all familiar with that feeling of walking through a dark abandoned park at night and imagining up some quick safety precautions if the worst should happen. There have been some shocking statistics via a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in which 44 percent of women reported experiencing some sort of sexual violence in their lifetime. Personal safety is no laughing matter and it doesn’t discriminate to just women—both men and women are at risk. Thankfully our technology boom hasn’t only given us addictive games and social networks—there is also a plethora of apps and technology that can actually keep us safer.
The development of GPS and other location-based technology has led-way to some genius personal safety apps. But with so many on offer/available, how do you decide which app to download? Which app is really going to make the potential difference to help avoid disaster?
A recent video of a woman walking innocently through New York City went viral for the shocking number of men who threw harassing comments at her as she went about her business. Unfortunately street harassment is commonplace and the app Hollaback was created to tackle this specific issue. According to the app company, an estimated 80-90% of women have been harassed in public. Hollaback allows you to capture and upload a photo of your potential harasser "caught in the act" and submit the story to be recorded and mapped on ihollaback.org. The photo then gets shared publicly on a street harassment prevention website. One woman’s story of snapping her catcallers recently went viral after she posted the offending photos on Instagram.
When we think about personal safety, we don’t always consider the different ways that feeling unsafe can rear its ugly head. And it’s not just about the unknown. According to sexual abuse cases reported to law enforcement, 93% of juvenile victims knew the perpetrator, approximately 59% were acquaintances, 34% were family members, and only 7% were strangers. If you don’t want to download an actual app, Kitestring works by sending you a simple text message whenever you’re on a date, a walk, or any sort of meeting. If you don’t respond, it will automatically send your emergency contacts a personalized alert. You don’t even need a smartphone to sign up.
Your personal safety can also encompass potential medical issues like allergies, risk of stroke or epilepsy. You might be in a situation where speaking on the phone to emergency services will put you in danger. The multitasking app Guardly, allows you to inform your safety network of your whereabouts with one tap of a button. The app can also customize the type of phone call or message you want to contact your emergency contacts with, for instance you could be suffering from a peanut allergy and need immediate assistance. The app offers a profile page where you can include personal information such as birthdate, eye/hair color, height, weight, blood type, plus medical information including existing conditions, allergies, medications, your doctor's name and phone number, insurance details and policy number.
Personal safety for kids
Your kids are sure to have a dramatically different high school experience then you did, and along with the pressure to get a smartphone at a young age, kids nowadays are exposed to more commercial exploitation than you ever were. Unfortunately kids might not know how to react and deal with certain awkward situations, and this is why personal safety apps are especially important for a younger age bracket. The app Circle of 6 for example, was designed with college and high school students in mind. With a friendly and easy-to-use interface, this app helps you or your kids escape tricky situations by allocating 6 friends of your choice. Two taps will send out 3 pre-set text messages to your friends. It can also plan a fake interruption in the form of a phone call in case you’re on a creepy date. The app contains pre-programmed national hotline numbers and a local number you can customize for campus security, police or 911.
Abuse on campus is another increasing worry for both parents and emergency services. The app OnWatchOnCampus directly meets the needs of students who so often get caught up in nights out, without necessarily being prepared for a crisis. The app allows you to instantly call 911, call campus police, or call both 911 and your emergency contacts which automatically shares your location and alerts friends when you have arrived safely at your expected destination.
However much we love our smartphones, there are times we’ll be without them, and it’s important that in times of emergency there is a way to call for help beyond our trusty phones. The app React Mobile has a smart key-ring device that pairs with an app on your phone via Bluetooth, so you can get help faster if your phone’s locked or out of reach when you need help. In an emergency you can hit the button on the device which immediately alerts your emergency contacts.
Personal safety doesn’t only address protection from harassment or attackers. Recently the need for emergency services in times of hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters is only too evident. If you want your call for help to reach further than your immediate emergency contacts, the app Red Panic Button allows you to send emergency text messages but also connects to your social media channels, including Twitter, Facebook and Email. It might sound like a overkill to tweet during a potential disaster but a recent tweet helped save an entire nursing home during Hurricane Harvey.
Is Your App Easy to Operate?
One of the first factors to consider when choosing a personal safety app is which app will be the simplest to use in a potential emergency. We never know how we’ll react when push comes to crunch and you don’t want any fiddly instructions. For instance, the personal safety app Watch Over Me, works by setting a simple timer in any situation you feel nervous. During this time your GPS is tracked and if you fail to hit the button ‘’I’m Safe’’ after the timer is up, an alert is sent out to your emergency contacts including your exact location. In the event of an active emergency, an alert can be set off by simply shaking your phone. The alert contacts all your emergency contacts, an alarm will be set off and the app will immediately begin video recording.
Also on the simple side, SafeTrek has one feature—you hit the button in the middle of the screen at anytime you’re feeling unsafe. Once you’re safe again you hit a 4-digit pin number, and if you don’t enter this number the app will automatically contact the local police.
Your personal safety isn’t black and white. You could be on a date where you might feel slightly unsafe, or in a business meeting where you have that nagging feeling in your stomach. The app bSafe, has numerous additional features that can create fake calls, for example as an excuse to get up from the table and leave the situation. Like most of these personal safety apps, bSafe can only work if you’ve enabled your location services, and designated invitations to your friends who have agreed to track your movements.
Naturally some of these apps are a cost, although some would argue your personal safety is priceless. For those who are concerned about your budget there are plenty of excellent and reliable apps that are completely free. Personal safety might be a difficult subject to approach, but keeping your mind at ease when you’re out and in tricky situations is invaluable.
|bSafe (Android + iOS)||Free|
|Circle of 6 (Android + iOS)||Free|
|Kitestring (sms service)||Free|
|Watch Over Me (Android + iOS)||Free|
|Guardly (Android + iOS)||Free or Guardly Premium is $1.99/month or $19.99/year|
|OnWatchOnCampus (Android + iOS)||$9.99 for Yearly subscription or $0.99 per month.|
|React Mobile (Android + iOS)||Free or 1-month "Follow Me" subscription, $1.99; 1-year "Follow Me" subscription, $19.99|
|** Hollaback! (Android + iOS)||Free|
|Red Panic Button (Android + iOS)||$2.99 + $0.99, to customize the content of messages|
|SafeTrek (Android + iOS)||$2.99 Monthly subscription|