But many critics argue that the app — provisionally called “walk me home” or “888,” the proposed emergency number women will likely be asked to dial — fails to tackle the reasonso many women feel unsafe: violence at the hands of men.
British Telecommunications company, or BT, which handles Britain’s emergency calls, is seeking around $68 million (50 million pounds) from the government to develop the app, which Home Secretary Priti Patel called “innovative" and a worthwhile service.
BT chief executive Philip Jansen wrote in the Daily Mail that the app would function by asking users to opt into a GPS tracking system that alerts their emergency contacts and the police if their destination is not reached on time. Users could also contact the police through the app if they feel threatened by calling or messaging 888.
The proposal comes following the kidnap, rape and abduction of Sarah Everard, who was killed by a London police officer earlier this year and the murder of Sabina Nessa, who was killed by a man as she walked to meet a friend last month.
Their killings outraged the public in Britain, where, on average a woman is killed by a man every three days, according to data from Femicide Census, an activist group that analyzes publicly available government data about violence against women.
Jansen, who has four daughters and one son, wrote that the cases drove him to play a part in helping to keep women safe.
“Male violence is causing so many people, especially women, to live in fear,” he said, adding that he had written a letter to the government asking for help funding the app which could also be used by women taking public transport.
Patel told The Daily Mail that she was now exploring the idea with her team and that the service “would be good to get going as soon as we can.”
"We need a whole-of-society approach to tackling violence against women and girls, and welcome joint working between the private sector and government,” a Home Office spokesperson said.
Yet Ludo Orlando, cofounder of the organization “Reclaim These Streets” which seeks to protect women and educate men on the issue of violence against women and girls, said in an email that the proposed app is “yet another case of women having to change their behaviour, instead of actually tackling the issue at its root cause which is male violence."
She also called on the government to invest in emergency service networks that already exist and need support — instead of embracing new ones.
“That 50 million could make a huge different to some of the amazing front-line organisations tacking violence against women everyday on the ground,” Orlando said, adding that women have been using technology to let people know they are safe “since mobile phones were introduced.”
Orlando also called on the government to make misogyny a hate crime, which Britain Justice Secretary Dominic Raab rejected last week while seemingly confused about the word’s meaning when he said that misogyny was wrong against a man or a woman.
The word itself is used to described hatred or prejudice toward women and girls, leading critics to question how the government could prevent misogyny when officials appeared unclear on its meaning.
Orlando said there was much more work to be done by the British government to tackle the issue of violence against women — but officials could start by teaching children about consent in schools and providing anti-sexist and anti-racist training to police officers, while revetting those already employed.
Jamie Klingler, also cofounder of Reclaim These Streets, raised questions over who would manage the new emergency service, telling LBC radio in an interview Sunday: “By the time we’re dialing 888 [the proposed number on the app], we’re dead.”
Britain’s police force has been widely criticized following the death of Everard, who was falsely arrested by serving officer Wayne Couzens before he kidnapped, raped and murdered her.
As he was handed a life sentence late last month, the judge said Couzens had “eroded the confidence the public are entitled to have in the police.”
Everard’s killing reignited a nationwide conversation on gender-based violence and once again sparked calls for police reform.
The killings of two sisters, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, who were stabbed to death by a man in a London park last summer, thrust the issue of police misconduct into the spotlight when two officers were forced to apologize following their deaths and suspended from duty after they shared images of the murder scene on WhatsApp.
On social media, there was also criticism for the proposed app. “What if, instead of wondering how to keep women safe, we worked out how to make women free,” tweeted one user, while others echoed the sentiment that the funds could be better spent on existing women’s services that say they are struggling to stay afloat.
Earlier this year, a report from the charity Women’s Aid found that more than 1 in 5 of refuge services set up to help people fleeing domestic abuse have no local authority funding and were relying on emergency funds.