Is There Really An App for That?

A Review of Technology That is Intended to Help Protect Against Sexual Assault


By Carlie Bacon

The recent case about Brock Turner sexually assaulting a woman at a Stanford party has cause major outrage and has revived an ongoing public discussion about rape culture, victim blaming, and other important issues.

There’s no doubt that sexual assault is a serious and widespread problem on college campuses and around the world.  The National Sexual Violence Resource Center states that in the U.S., 20 percent of women and about 1.4 percent of men will be raped at some point in their lives, with those numbers skyrocketing when factoring in other forms of sexual violence as well as LGBTQ people.  Incidences are probably much greater in number, as rape is the most under-reported crime.

Over the last few years, app developers and innovators believe they have devised ways to help people protect themselves against sexual assault.

Many of the recent designs are fashion-focused.  ROAR for Good is a company that has designed and marketed jewelry that is designed to reduce assaults.  The button-sized piece can be worn as a necklace pendant or as a pin.  When in need, the wearer presses a panic button that emits a loud alarm and sends distress texts with GPS location to “emergency contacts” (friends and family).

A company out of the Netherlands called Pearltect is designing jewelry that, when activated, produces an odiferous substance to deter sexual activity, and a tracking compound that can link the perpetrator to the crime scene.

Undercover Colors, a start-up comprised of North Carolina State University students, is in the process of bringing to market a nail polish that changes color when it comes into contact with common date rape drugs.  The wearer swirls a coated nail in a drink to determine if such a drug is present.

And let’s not forget the simpler, controversial, but nevertheless innovative, Rape-aXe, The “anti-rape condom” is a barbed, rubber device that women may wear to cut short an assault.

Critics voice concerns about, among other things, the effectiveness of such personal protection devices against the reality of rape: 92 percent of rapes are committed by people familiar to the victim.  Critics also argue against the innovations’ exclusiveness to people who can afford to pay.

In addition to wearable devices, personal safety apps like PanicGuard, MyForce, and OnWatchOnCampus offer various features.

India recently announced its plans to mandate technological crime prevention.  Beginning in 2017, all mobile phones in India must include a panic button.  These new phones will be pre-configured to send a distress signal to family members or the police when the user presses the power button three times in succession.  In 2018, all phones will need to be equipped with GPS.

Despite U.S. law enforcement’s research and implementation of numerous technological innovations in preventing and policing crime, it does not seem that much attention has been devoted to improving ways for the public to communicate with law enforcement.  For instance, text messaging from mobile phones has been available to the public since 1993.  Fast-forward over twenty years, and the Federal Communications Commission reports that “text-to-911” is only available in certain markets where call centers “have elected to accept emergency text messages from the public.”

While apps and gadgets can never solve the underlying issue of sexual violence, they may provide some help in preventing certain instances.  It will be interesting to see how much the public sector includes private sector innovations (even basic stuff like texting) into its crime prevention and policing repertoire.

Image source: GSU.EDU


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