Tech, Now + Beyond

Could we ever prevent rape and sexual assault with just an app?

I can't help but wonder: what if it ends up working too late?

I was terrified of going to New York City.

Not of the amount of traffic. Not of the idea of figuring out the subway for the first time — but from the possibility that I could have been robbed, or even raped.

So I downloaded an app called SafeTrek.

It seemed useful. You hold down a button as you’re walking, and once you let go, you’re given 10 seconds to enter a code. If 10 seconds pass, the police are immediately notified. Efficient, free, and didn’t take too much space on my phone. My panic eased. Maybe I could have a safe time in a city with one of the highest crime rates in America after all.

I kept thinking, “This is a good thing, right?”

In retrospect: Yes. Well, sort of.

Something similar happened a while ago, where four men made a nail polish that could detect a rape drug in alcohol. All a woman had to do was stir her nail in the drink, and she would be able to escape the situation, the creators figured.

People praised the men right and left for their discovery, but they forgot something much more important: prevention should start with the aggressors, not with the victims.

As glad as I am for the technology that makes my day safer, let’s not shift our focus from the real goal: teaching men not to rape.

There are other apps like SafeTrek, such as Kitestring — which lets your contacts know something is wrong when you don’t respond after a certain time. But they don’t solve the problem.

I appreciate the innovations, don’t get me wrong — but it’s sad I even need to download something like this to feel safe in a foreign place. It’s sad that I couldn’t travel the city as much as I wanted to, because I didn’t have someone to go with me, and I wasn’t sure what would happen once it got too dark.

This isn’t just in New York, either.

It’s in every city. It’s on college campuses. It’s in every dimly lit area, where women fear the unspeakable. Even with these apps, I can’t help but wonder: what if they’re too late?

Such innovative technology may be important, but the only thing that will make women feel safer is if the crimes themselves reduce – not apps that notify others as the attack is happening.

Think of it this way: you can throw us out to a pool of sharks with everything from a floatie to an air tank, but we’ll still be in danger.

And we will, most likely, have a long wait for help.