Home Office support of safety app fails to address male violence against women, campaigners say

By Saman Javed
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Women’s groups have urged the government to implement measures which “address the behaviour of violent men” after it backed a new app that allows users’ friends and family to track their journey home.

Path Community aims to help women and other vulnerable groups get home safely by providing them with a monitored route. The app allows users to choose nominated “guardians” who will be able to track their journey.

If the walker moves more than 40 metres from the designated route, or stops for more than three minutes, it will ask them if they are OK. If there is no reply after 30 seconds, the app will notify the person’s guardians.

The app comes after 2021 saw two highly publicised cases of women who were murdered while walking home, Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa.

The Home Office’s safeguarding minister, Rachel Maclean, said Path Community is part of a “whole society approach to tackling violence against women and girls”.

Maclean said: “Every part of government is working in tandem to deliver our Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls strategy, published in July, which focuses on increased support for survivors, bringing perpetrators to justice and prevention.”

The app has been created by a private company and has not received any funding from the government.

Rights groups have criticised the app as another example of an initiative that “asks women to do yet more work to keep themselves safe”.

“Spaces are not unsafe because of the streetlights or the environment or what we are wearing – they are unsafe because of violent men,” Jayne Butler, CEO of Rape Crisis told the Independent.

“Women already go to great lengths to create a sense of safety by trading in their personal freedoms, another app is not the solution to the underlying issue.

“Addressing harmful attitudes towards women and challenging rape culture is long overdue. We want to see an initiative from the Home Office that addresses the behaviour of violent men, not that asks women to do yet more work to keep themselves safe.”

Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition said initiatives which place the burden of staying safe on women can lead to victim blaming.

Solutions focused on women’s safety are producing measures that fail to get to the root of the problem: men’s attitudes and behaviour.

“This app will do nothing to deter a perpetrator intent on harming women, nor will it address the deeply rooted attitudes, norms and inequality that underpin violence against women,” Simon said.

“With women’s rights and freedoms to be free from threats of violence as a starting point, we’ll see different solutions that do not place the responsibility on women to protect ourselves and therefore do not blame victims when they are attacked, and do not involve the surveillance of women’s movements under the guise of keeping us safe.”

Some groups have also expressed concern that the app’s principal function, to track a user’s movements, could be misused by abusers.

“Control is at the heart of all domestic abuse. Having heard so many survivors tell us about experiences of being told where they can and can’t go, who they can and can’t see, the ability to track a partner’s movements to the extent this app allows is chilling,” Farah Nazeer, chief executive of Women’s Aid said.

“It would extend an abuser’s reach beyond the home, controlling women in spaces they previously felt safe and free.”

Harry Mead, the founder of Path Community, said he had tried to eliminate misuse of the app.

“For example, with abusers, we have deliberately only enabled guardians to be linked to individual journeys, not every journey. We are also building in the ability for users to toggle live location on and off in order to give them even more privacy whilst maintaining the same safety level,” he said.

Noting that the app is “not the solution to an enormous and systemic issue”, Mead said he hopes it is a “step in the right direction”.

“It has been developed with the support and input of victims of all communities who have suffered vile attacks and is designed to strive towards safer cities for everyone,” he added.

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