If you were considering whether to take a new shortcut on your walk home one night, what might make you change your mind?
For many women, learning that a sex crime had been committed on that route would be enough to stop them in their tracks. That’s the logic behind a new app currently being rolled out in Japan, which warns smartphone users when they are entering an area where a sexual assault has taken place.
The ‘Mimamotchi’ app is being trialled in Fukuoka Prefecture, on Japan’s main island of Kyushu, Mashable reports. Using GPS to track locations, the free app automatically sends a notification when users get close to where sex crimes have been logged.
Fukuoka Prefecture has the sixth highest level of sexual offences in Japan with 435 cases being reported last year, according to the Nikkei newspaper.
The region’s prefectural police told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper that the app –the first of its kind in Japan – was designed in consultation with high school and university students, and was intended to help protect young women and children from sexual predators.
The app allows users to see where a range of sex crimes, from forcible indecency to groping, have taken place on an interactive map. Areas with a particularly high concentration of sexual crime are highlighted in red, so that users can easily identify and potentially choose to avoid dangerous neighbourhoods.
Users can choose how close they want to be to the site of an attack before they receive a notification, from a range of 5 km (3.1 miles) to 100 metres (328 feet).
They can also make use of an alarm feature, which enables them to trigger a warning beep and call the police by tapping on their smartphone’s screen.
Another function is a message reading ‘I am being groped’, which it is suggested women display on their phone screens when they are “on a train or in other circumstances where [they] find it awkward to raise [their] voice”.
One Fukuoka police official said that the Mimamotchi app could help heighten crime awareness, as well as protecting users.
“Many people tend to look on sex crimes as somebody else’s problem, but we want them to learn about records of crime so they will be more aware of crime prevention,” said Masako Tsuru, an inspector who helped develop the app.
Read more: New app helps pregnant commuters find a seat
While well-intentioned, inventions like the Mimamotchi app are bound to trigger debate thanks to their implication that it’s the responsibility of potential victims of sexual crime – not the perpetrators – to modify their behaviour if they want to avoid being targeted. Neither is it clear whether women could find themselves subject to victim-blaming if they’re attacked while walking through an area known for a high rate of sex crimes.
However, the app is already garnering positive reviews on the Google Play store.
“I think it’s a reassuring app,” wrote one user.
Another user, Hiroya Hiroshi, added: “I was waiting for such an app! It is an ideal application!”