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Thursday, 14 December 2017

Webwatch: Anti-rape apps 'place responsibility on everyone except perpetrators'

Written by Conor Riordan

Anti-rape apps create a "climate of fear" where responsibility for gathering evidence of a sexual assault is pushed on to victims, according to a new study.

Researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University and Trent University, Canada, found personal smartphone technologies place the emphasis on women to take "routine" daily measures to prevent such crimes.

An increasing number of these apps are becoming available in the UK, some of which record when consent is given, send out text alerts if a woman feels in a dangerous situation or track someone's journey home in real time.

Professor Lesley McMillan, associate director of the Scottish Institute for Policing Research, said: "Many of these devices feed into the common, and erroneous, assumption of 'stranger danger', the myth that rapists primarily jump out of bushes late at night.

"We know this type of sexual assault is very rare, and most women are raped by someone known to them, including partners, relatives, friends and colleagues.

"In essence, these technologies place responsibility on everyone except perpetrators.

"They focus on women taking routine measures for their own sexual assault prevention, and even in some cases for collecting their own evidence for the criminal justice system.

"Women are frequently blamed for their victimisation and this could become more intense if questioned as to why they had not informed someone of their whereabouts using an app, or collected evidence of the assault."

Several personal safety apps offer remote monitoring of a phone, using geolocation if the owner opts in to the service.

However, the researchers raised concerns that women in abusive relationships may be put at risk.

This was because devices offering remote monitoring of someone's location "could allow stalkers or abusers to identify locations as well as regular routines".

Prof McMillan added that although some apps were being created with the "best intentions", others are being made to "make money out of fear".

The expert has previously claimed We-Consent, an app designed to record when both parties agree to having sex, could result in someone being coerced into giving an answer they did not want to.

Michael Lissack, executive director of Empowering Victims, refuted claims the firm's technologies should be described as "anti-rape" as they "create expectations" which were "never intended".

Referring specifically to the We-Consent app (pictured), he claimed it was developed to address US laws which force college students to have recorded proof consent was given.

It also has a "forced yes" answer which could be used to alert authorities.

Mr Lissack added: "Mankind has spent 3,000 years, through various forms, educating that it's not a good idea to murder one another - it hasn't worked.

"To assume education alone will work with ending sexual assault is the height of naivety. If it's not going to work with murder, then it's not going to work with rape."

As well as apps, researchers looked at a range of devices marketed as being "anti-rape".

Such items include protective clothing and colour-changing nail polish that manufacturers claim can detect date-rape drugs.

Prof McMillan said the language used to describe these devices wrongly claims they can "end violence against women".

She added: "Just as efforts such as self-defence training for women have not eradicated sexual assault, selling women communication technologies to incorporate into their daily lives will not ultimately end the historic pattern of pervasive sexual violence."

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