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This App Is Making It Safer for Women to Walk Alone at Night

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

Picture the scene:

You’ve had a girls’ night out with your friends and you all exit the restaurant laughing.

As you say goodbye to everyone, you bite your lip, knowing you are going home alone on the train or bus, or that you have to walk to your car, which happens to be parked nowhere near your girlfriends’.

The knot of fear starts to rise as you think of the lonely street you’ll be walking down, and it’s after midnight.

You look at the heels you’re wearing and instantly regret the fact that you did.

Once out of the station/off the bus, you begin your walk, and hear footsteps behind you. You lift out your phone, but it’s too late to call your mom or partner — they’d be asleep.

You walk faster, your heart beating all the while, your keys threaded through your fingers.

Sound familiar?

It’s not an understatement to say that my entire 20s were blighted by the fear of walking home after an evening out. I’d head off on a date or a birthday gathering, dinner with friends or a movie night, with one eye always on the clock. As soon as dark fell, I’d face a horrible quandary — do I take the train home, or ask my friend if I can crash on her couch? So great was my fear that it ruined many an evening out.

London’s tube was fairly safe, but it was the walk home, down a quiet deserted street, that terrified me. I had to walk past a couple of alleyways and used to run down the middle of the road, lest anyone pull me into one. Often, I would get a cab and then have to eat noodles for the rest of the week as they cost so much! Things were easier when I lived with three girls, as most of the time we were out together, but the joy of a potential date was marred by the stress of how to get home safely. I have memories of calling my mom at 2 AM to talk to me as I walked the dark windy road home alone (a cab driver dumping me out on the street because I was £2 short for the full trip home).

If only I’d been able to download the new “Companion” app designed by five students from the University of Michigan. It’s ingenious! The app is free and was originally designed to help students feel safe while walking home at night across university campuses. Users can request a friend to virtually walk them home by tracking their journey via GPS. According to the International Business Times, tens of thousands of people worldwide are already using it.

Here’s how it works:

  • First, users request a friend or “companion,” and then they select their destination. (A friend doesn’t need to have installed the app to be a companion; in fact, the user can select several people to be their companion at the same time — in the event that some are unavailable.)
  • Whoever you have selected follows you on GPS in real-time and will receive alerts if there are disruptions to your journey (such as straying off a planned route, being pushed, if you start running, or your headphones are pulled out.)
  • If you don’t respond to let the app know that you’re OK within 15 seconds, the app will contact your companion.
  • What is even more brilliant is it then emits loud noises, turning your cell phone into a personal safety alarm!
  • There is also an emergency button that can be used to call the police with one click.

On the group’s blog, they wrote, “After a long night of studying at the library, hanging out at a friend’s house, or leaving a party early, walking home is often the most practical option. Yet with rampant crime alerts, increasing sexual assaults and other violence issues, few actually feel safe when doing so.”

It makes me delighted that my daughter won’t have to go through the same fear that I did. While it frustrates me that women have to deal with any kind of fears over their safety, it is a necessary precaution. Especially when the number of sex crimes reported on U.S. college campuses has soared by 50% over the course of a decade, according to a new government report. In 2001 the number of reported sexual assaults on college campuses was 2,200, but in 2011 the federal Department of Education report the number had risen to 3,300.

Meanwhile, there was a 20% annual increase in recorded rapes and a 17% rise in sexual offenses reported to police in England and Wales this year. Obviously not every assault is by a stranger in the dead of night in a deserted street, but surely women should be encouraged to protect themselves as much as they possibly can in every situation.

My daughter may only be 4, but I know I’ll worry just as much as my own mom did when she sent me off to college in London when I was 18. She knew that I was responsible, but she still worried. While I used to shake off her fears and tell her she was being silly, I know I’ll be exactly the same with my own kids. I’m haunted by stories of boys beaten up after leaving nightclubs by vicious thugs or girls stalked as they get off the train at night, so if I can download anything to give me and my kids more peace of mind, I’ll take it!

The Companion app is currently collecting data from user experiences and pinpointing the locations that are deemed as “making users nervous,” which is another button on the app that you can press. The plan is to give the data to local authorities so they can get a better idea of the so-called “problem areas” in their community.

A free personal bodyguard? What’s not to love?

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