Mapping the Night

Moon with mapping pin

In the early fall of 1975, Susan Alexander Speeth was stabbed to death when walking home alone at night. Her body was found less than a block from her home. In the aftermath of Speeth’s death, feminists cried the slogan “Take Back the Night.” The call remains a rallying call to mourn the loss of what many women has never had: freedom in public spaces.

While it’s misguided to assume that most violence against woman looks like the Speeth case, the fear of harm while out in public spaces is very real for many women. In the face of this fear, women are turning to their mobile devices.

Some apps, like the Hollaback app mentioned in my last post, allow women to track instances of assault or harassment. The central feature: communicate  GPS coordinates in case of an attack. Some apps aimed towards women runners, like Glympse and RunSafe, allow women to track crimes, contact loved ones, and track runs. Then there’s separate devices that link with a phone. Athena, for example, connects to users phones and when it is “activated by holding the button for three seconds, Athena sounds an 85db alarm – the same decibel level as a freight train– and sends a message to pre-determined friends and family automatically.”

Are these apps the solution? No. As the UN argues, “creating public spaces” for women to be safe and comfortable requires planners to design “with features that enhance women’s safety and feelings of safety, and detract from features that cause women’s insecurity and feelings of insecurity.” Real intervention to violence against women requires foresight in the planning process, changes to policing, and changes in law. But are this apps helpful for women? Perhaps. Mapping apps may give women a sense of control when traveling in a public space. Moreover, they give women a way to track and interact with space in a way that they may have never had before. So maybe women can’t have the night with a tracking app, but at least, they can shine a light on their presence in these spaces.

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