Digital technology and the safety of women and girls in urban space: personal safety Apps or crowd-sourced activism tools?

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Abstract

Responding to the prevalence of crimes against women, locative safety technology targets women’s gendered experience in neo-liberal cities. Apps with panic buttons and incident reporting features connect the phone’s location to ‘friends’ or emergency services with cloud-syncing devices, serving as a ‘virtual witness’ to verbal or physical assault.

The geolocative software of safety Apps accumulates anonymous data that maps trends in the way that sexual violence shapes cities. Given that sexual violence is often difficult to chart, these records would seem a significant asset. Yet, with the aim of defusing women’s experience of sexual violence, the locative medium flattens and abstracts the territories of cities and the architectural context in which violence occurs.

Unsurprisingly, safety Apps are marketable products for women to (re)construct their identities. By fusing women’s social reality with anticipated, and at times fictitious, fears about occupying urban space, the Apps may ironically pre-regulate women’s behaviours and interactions. The ‘Watch Over Me’ app sells a retro-sexist ‘guardian angel’ where women are viewed as passive, potential victims. The ‘bSafe’ app supports empowered and individualistic women to take risks by occupying urban space. With features such as ‘Follow Me’ and ‘I’m Here’ women using ‘bSafe’ communicate their sexual agency to family members or partners while implicitly submitting to being continually monitored.

Offering a counterpoint, geolocative projects developed by feminist activist groups connect the physical and material location of women’s urban harassment to their individual experience. By crowdsourcing an interactively-narrated map, activist projects like Free to Be, for example, recognises the diversity of women’s experiences of harassment in urban space and reposition women’s sexual and gendered experience in cities.

By considering the way that locative media shape women’s territories, this chapter will evaluate the benefits and incongruities of this non-neutral tool. In revealing the complexity of the stakeholders of locative safety Apps, I suggest that geolocative activist crowd sourcing support actions towards more gender-sensitive cities.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationArchitecture and Feminisms
Subtitle of host publicationEcologies, Economies, Technologies
EditorsHelene Frichot, Catharina Gabrielsson, Helen Runting
Place of PublicationOxon, United Kingdom
PublisherRoutledge
Chapter9
Pages112-121
Number of pages10
Edition1st
ISBN (Electronic)978-0-203-72971-7
ISBN (Print)978-1-138-30487-1, 978-1-138-30488-8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 20 Nov 2017

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