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Women’s safety: the proposed 888 service to protect women walking home has been met with criticism online

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Lauren Geall
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The proposed scheme – which will track users as they’re walking home – has been met with criticism for failing to address the reason why so many women are scared to be alone at night: male violence.

A new government-backed proposal to protect women travelling alone has been met with criticism online, with many saying the scheme fails to address the reasons why women feel so unsafe in the first place.

The proposal by BT, which has reportedly received backing from the home secretary Priti Patel, would allow women to opt into a GPS tracking system by calling or texting a phone number, possibly 888, which would trigger an alert if they did not reach their destination (which they can record via a mobile app) on time.

It’s reported that the service, which is currently being referred to as ‘Walk Me Home’, would then send a message to the user at the time they’re supposed to arrive home. A failure to respond would issue calls to their emergency contacts; there would also be an option for the user to call the police.

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Writing in The Daily Mail, BT chief executive Philip Jansen said his company had been prompted to take action after the deaths of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa.

“Male violence is causing so many people, especially women, to live in fear,” he wrote, adding that the 888 network would be a “new emergency service” that could “act as a deterrent” to potential criminals targeting lone women.

It is said that the scheme, which would reportedly cost £50m to set up, could be up and running by Christmas if it gets the go-ahead. 

However, since the suggestion was first made on Friday, many charities and politicians have spoken out against the new scheme – with many criticising the idea for failing to do anything to address male violence.

“Here’s a radical idea for you Priti – instead of tracking women’s movements as we go about our lives, how about the government actually tackles male violence instead?” Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeted. “Only 1% of reported rapes result in a charge, that’s the problem, not us walking home.”   

The Women’s Equality Party also responded to the suggestion, saying the scheme was “another indication that the government think it’s women’s responsibility to avoid violence” on the UK’s streets.

“We have to stop managing violence against women and girls and start ending it,” the party’s official Twitter account added. 

Sharing her thoughts on Instagram, Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project and author of Men Who Hate Women, wrote: “As if centuries of advice to women about extra responsibilities and actions to take to keep themselves safe hadn’t failed. As if women aren’t in danger everywhere, including at home, work and school. As if it helps that they’ll know where our bodies are when we don’t arrive home safely, which is basically all this would achieve.”

Bates continued: “As if any lone woman wants her exact movements tracked and home address recorded on a database accessible by police given the institutionalised misogyny and violence within the police force and particular failings towards Black and minoritised, LGBTQ and migrant women. As if we didn’t know what actual, systemic solutions look like: education, focus on men and male perpetrators, funding frontline services, tackling normalised sexist attitudes, criminal justice reform.

“As if restricting and tracking women’s freedom yet further is the solution here. As if we wouldn’t respond with total outrage if someone suggested tracking all the men.” 

Speaking to The Guardian, Andrea Simon, the director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, called the scheme a “sticking plaster solution” that is “symptomatic of an increasingly unequal society… [where] women can’t move around as they want to without taking additional safety measures.” 

Simon continued: “The government’s priority should be funding measures that prevent and address harmful male behaviour. We want to see just as many schemes that actually target behaviour of perpetrators… because so many of these men are known to the police already.”

And appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today show this morning, Jamie Klinger, co-founder of the campaign group Reclaim These Streets, called the idea “impractical”.

“We all text people when we get home  – we’ve been doing that since we got mobile phones  – and instead of spending £50m on this new fandangled idea which is really an old idea, 999 needs to work for us,” Klinger said. “We need to look at the problem – we need to look at male violence at the hands of men.”

Online, women have also been responding to the 888 scheme, sharing their fears that the new service would require them to change their behaviour and be used to blame women for not taking enough steps to keep themselves safe. 

While it waits to be seen whether the new 888 service will get the support and funding it needs to become a reality (a spokesperson for the Home Office has said they’ve received Jansen’s suggestion and will respond in “due course”), it seems likely that the scheme will fail to address the fears many women have about staying safe on the UK’s streets.

Indeed, as journalist Ash Sakar wrote on Twitter, many women already use technology to keep themselves safe – it’s the attitudes and people they’re trying to keep themselves safe from that need to be addressed.  

With the support of more than 60 experts and public figures, Stylist is calling on the government to launch a long-term public awareness campaign about male violence against women – aimed directly at men. Find out more about our call for #AFearlessFuture.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.