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A knee-jerk response to women’s safety

Cat James

Two mainland authorities, plus the Isle of Wight Council, are offering free licences for the StaySafe Lone Worker app. Possibly in response to the heinous murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, the Home Office has decided to Do Something by launching this technological sticking plaster to “make women feel safer by tracking their movements”. Local women working in hospitality can activate software which notifies a Milton Keynes-based call centre of their whereabouts while travelling home at night.

A quick delve online tells me that this (and other monitoring apps) can be used by employers to track their employees. Any lone woman who signs up can be pinpointed in moments. Pinpointed by a private company, presumably also the government and whoever in her organisation has access to the data. One hopes there are robust security systems in place, and that live tracking can’t be used by, say a colleague or the police, to cyber (or actually) stalk a potential victim, knowing specifically when and where she is on her own.

Even if we assume that those safeguards are in place, surely this is not the ‘solution’ that women want? To be electronically tethered? It’s so tin-eared of the authorities; like the worst form of coercive control. Using a sledgehammer to crack a nutter like murderer Wayne Couzens.

So, how about a little switcheroo. Rather than proposing that women going about their lawful business have a virtual shadow, let men be the ones to have their locations minutely surveilled. Perhaps THAT would be more likely to make women feel safer on the streets.

“Not all men!”, I hear you protest. No, of course, it’s not all men. But it is pretty much all women and girls. Councillor Ian Stephens, IWC cabinet lead for community safety, said: “It’s a sad reality that most women or girls will have experienced some type of harassment or abuse in public spaces.”

Stef Nienaltowski, CEO of Shaping Portsmouth, added, “[this] will send a message to any potential predators. If they think a woman has this as protection it could deter them from following her or doing something.”

Electronic tags which monitor both location and curfew restrictions, have been in existence in England and Wales since 1999. These are not adorning the ankles of potential victims, but of actual criminals. Maybe if a man knew his activities were being monitored and recorded he might reconsider “doing something”. Doing something. Like false arrest and kidnapping?

The developers give assurances that users can tap the app to give accurate coordinates if a situation escalates. Small comfort if that escalation is rape and strangulation, followed by a perpetrator burning his victim’s body and disposing of her remains in a nearby pond.

By tracking women on the streets, isn’t this effectively shifting the emphasis away from identifying potential harassers? If a man’s intentions are honourable, surely an electronic leash is nothing to fear. The solution to women’s safety lies in the hands and hearts of all men – far more than her smartphone.

This article first appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press on 15 April 2022 and also online.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels.

Cat James

Graphic designer, creative director of Pinkeye Graphics, Isle of Wight County Press columnist, Cat out of Matt and Cat

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