We as a society have long since emphasized the importance of self defense, but there is no way to completely eliminate all possibilities of being the target of a violent crime, and self-defense only goes so far. Weapons can be used against you, and despite combat guides and tips being widely available, many people simply don’t have the ability to be able to fight their way out of a bad situation.
For those who aren’t comfortable arming themselves or don’t have the time to train physically, safety can be a big concern. Fortunately, if you have access to a smartphone, you have access to apps that can provide some degree of safety, many with the help of GPS technology.
I spent a few days this week in Los Angeles and used that as an opportunity to test out a few. Here are four of the best apps to keep you safe while walking alone, and my personal experiences with them.
It seems as if there is no end to the features that can be found on bSafe’s interface, from scheduling fake calls to sending friends your current location and alerting them when you are in danger.
After installation, bSafe will prompt you to create a profile with your name, phone number, email, and gender. From there, you will be asked to add friends to your Social Safety Network. You can add as many as you would like, however they must have bSafe as well and accept your invitation. One friend can be selected as your primary contact, and they will receive both a call and a text in the event of an emergency.
Location services must be enabled to use bSafe, which can drain your battery. Your location can then be seen on the map in the center of the screen. bSafe does seem to be slower to locate the user than other apps, however there are three levels of magnification available, including satellite view.
Follow Me allows you to share your location and your route to your destination with friends in your Social Safety Network in real time. When Follow Me is selected, your Social Safety Network is sent invitations to track you via live GPS trace. You receive an alert when a friend has accepted that invite, so you know exactly who is watching out for you. A timer can be set as well with this feature, triggering an SOS alert being sent out to your bSafe friends if you fail to check in after the timer ends.
Finally, Fake Call lets you schedule a fake call that rings your phone. bSafe’s website suggests this for blind dates, however it wouldn’t be a bad idea to schedule one in any instance where you may be surrounded by unfamiliar people. A convenient reason to excuse yourself from an uncomfortable or even dangerous situation can be a literal lifesaver.
In the event of an emergency, one tap of the SOS Button at the bottom of the screen will immediately alert your Social Safety Network. A siren may sound, depending on the user’s personal settings, and bSafe will automatically begin to record video, voice, and location and time stamps. This data is stored in bSafe’s servers and can be safely accessed if the user wanted to share these recordings with law enforcement.
Although I have personally been using a different safety app in my day-to-day life, bSafe is excellent and may become my new primary app. With a wide-range of functions and options, I only need to use one app rather than several to meet my personal preferences. A fake call was very straightforward to schedule, and my location was more or less tracked accurately as I journeyed through Los Angeles.
bSafe is available for free for both iPhones and Android phones. However, bSafe Premium is currently only an option in Norway and Sweden, though the developers are working to launch the app in other countries as well.
With a clean, organized interface and a variety of unique features, iGoSafely is one of the most user-friendly safety apps in the Google Play store. Designed as an enhancement for pre-existing personal safety habits, it continuously tracks your GPS location while also displaying vital details such as battery information, GPS signal strength, and network connectivity.
After installing the app, you will be asked to make a profile. From there, you will be prompted to add emergency contacts and then set a disarm code to turn off the alarm if it has been triggered. However, if the wrong disarm code is entered, the app will silence the alarm while continuing to track your location and alert your contacts.
The alarm can be armed at the tap of the button, which will send an alert to emergency contacts. Once it is armed, it can be activated by either shaking your phone or unplugging your headphones. Unlike other safety apps on the market, you don’t have to give yourself away by turning on your phone’s screen to trigger the alarm. Not only that, the app continuously tracks your location via GPS coordinates, allowing your emergency contacts to swiftly and easily find you.
Although iGoSafely is free in the Google Play Store, the developers mention on their website that they are looking into paid options in the future. However, all the core features will remain available for no cost.
iGoSafely isn’t the most visually-pleasing safety app on the market, but the information it provides for the user is so detailed and the functionality so smooth that the aesthetic is very much a non-issue. Unplugging your headphones to trigger the alarm is also a creative feature, though I can see it setting off false alarms from time to time.
Watch Over Me
Co-created by Xinch C., a woman who had once been the target of a kidnapping attempt, Watch Over Me is designed to give you some peace of mind when in situations that may be unfamiliar or even dangerous. Frustrated by few safety options aside from a panic button, the founders of Watch Over Me added a wide variety of features all designed to help the user stay aware of their surroundings and remain traceable in the event of an emergency.
In any situation where you may worry for your safety, you can enable the app by setting a timer. While the timer is counting down, your location is being tracked at all times by Watch Over Me’s tracking service. You can also take pictures, add notes, or even ask a friend to watch over you as well.
If you fail to tap “I’m Safe” before the timer stops, an alert is sent out to your emergency contacts that includes your exact location and any notes or pictures you may have included.
In the event of an emergency, an alarm can be triggered simply by shaking your phone. An alert will be sent out to your emergency contacts, an alarm will blare, and the app will begin to record video.
When entering an area with a high level of crime, Watch Over Me will alert you. Not only that, streets feature safety ratings calculated using official crime data.
Although Watch Over Me can be installed for free, there is an extra paid function. Emergency alerts are sent to contacts via push notifications; however, for $4.99 a year, emergency alerts will also be sent out to contacts via SMS.
My only complaint with Watch Over Me, which is likely a non-issue for many users, is that disabling location services will trigger a push notification reminding you that the app cannot function without location services enabled.
The timer function is a great feature and works well, but estimating the time you may spend walking alone might be difficult for some users. Overall, Watch Over Me is a fantastic app
Perhaps one of the simplest personal safety apps on the market, SafeTrek is also one of the easiest to use. It has one feature: press your finger against the button in the middle of the screen when you feel unsafe, then release when you feel safe again and enter your 4-digit PIN.
In the event of an emergency, removing your thumb from the button but not entering your PIN will send an emergency alert to the local police. Whereas the other apps on this list leave calling the police to emergency contacts, who may or may not always see the alert in time, SafeTrek cuts out the middleman by notifying police itself. However, it does not record or film during an emergency.
I have been using SafeTrek myself for nearly a year and can attest to the high quality of the app, as well as the ease of use. Keeping your phone in hand may provide some reassurance, but it may be difficult to keep your finger on the button for long periods of time, especially when walking.
SafeTrek also doesn’t have nearly as many features as the other safety apps on this list. Still, I have a strong preference for the interface.
On Safety and Victim-Blaming
While it is important to stay as safe as possible while walking alone, it is also important to note that not every predator is a masked stranger hiding in the shadows. More often than not, predators are people we know and may even trust. They may be attractive, charming, and well-respected by those around them. That’s what makes them dangerous and discourages victims from speaking out.
Nevertheless, these are excellent apps for personal safety when walking alone. However, they may not suit every single person. Methods of safety are never one-size-fits all, nor are they ever completely foolproof.
There is no way to completely protect yourself from predators, but because of the strong social emphasis we put on self-defense, victims of violent crimes — especially women who walk alone — are often unfairly blamed for their own attacks.
Blaming victims for the actions of predators is not only cruel, but it also keeps the blame from being placed on the actual perpetrators of violent crimes.
If you have been the target of a violent crime, there are hotlines staffed by people ready to help you, as well as online resources designed to validate your experience and help you through any resulting trauma. Some of these hotlines and online resources include:
The National Sexual Assault Hotline (US): 800-656-4673
RAINN’s (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) website offers a variety of articles on healing after sexual violence, including a page specifically written for male victims that addresses the unique issues they may face. RAINN also has a page listing international resources as well, organized by country.
Finally, PsychologyToday features listings for therapists in the United States and Canada. Search filters include location, gender of the therapist, specialties, and any issues you may hope to address, including trauma after a violent attack or sexual assault.
Do you have any experience with these apps? Are there other personal safety apps out there that you feel should have been mentioned? Leave me a comment below and tell me about it!