Women’s safety apps: how Hollie Guard and WalkSafe work - and surge in downloads after Sarah Everard’s murder

Apps such as Hollie Guard and WalkSafe have seen an increase in downloads since the murder of Sarah Everard

An app created in memory of a woman killed by her ex-partner is among the personal safety technology which has seen a surge in downloads since the murder of Sarah Everard.

For many women using such apps gives them peace of mind.

However, there has been discussion around the growing use of apps and how they aren’t a solution to the wider problem of violence against women and girls.

There were also fears certain tracking or mapping features in some apps had the potential to be misused by abusers.

NationalWorld spoke to two popular safety apps, Hollie Guard and WalkSafe, about the spike in women turning to technology to stay safe.

What is Hollie Guard?

Hollie Guard is provided by the Hollie Gazzard Trust.

The Hollie Guard app is provided by a charity which was set up by the family of Hollie Gazzard who was killed by her ex-partner.

Hollie was just 20-years-old when she was murdered in 2014 in the Gloucester salon she worked in by Asher Maslin. He was later jailed for life and must serve at least 24 years.

Her family set up the Hollie Gazzard Trust in her memory and work to reduce domestic violence through creating and delivering programmes.

The family of Hollie Gazzard set up a charity in her memory after she was murdered by her ex partner.

Poppy Fletcher, Hollie Guard Manager said: “The ultimate aim of the charity is to positively change lives of younger people through education and preventing others from what Hollie went through. With all that Hollie Guard comes in and contributes towards that with regards to prevention and helping others feel safe when they are out and about.”

While the app is aimed at domestic abuse and stalking victims many others use it too in their day-to-day lives.

The app, which has a free version as well as a paid for plan, gives its users the option to shake the phone or press a button within the app to activate an alert if they feel in danger. The alert will be sent to that user’s nominated emergency contact.

The emergency contact will get the user’s location as well as video and audio evidence which is picked up automatically when that alert is raised.

They will be able to see the user’s location, hear what’s going on and then make the appropriate decision about whether to go to the user or call the emergency services on their behalf.

The app also has a journey feature where you can set your start and end destinations and once you have arrived your emergency contacts are notified. If you don’t arrive within the set time an alert is triggered.

What is WalkSafe?

WalkSafe’s co-founder Emma Kay said it was a conversation about her own experiences of harassment that led to the idea for the app.

She said: “The men round the table were just kind of shocked that so much had happened to me from the age of 12-years-old.

“And off the back of it, we decided that this just wasn’t normal, and that something should be done. And we went away and created WalkSafe.

“Now, I just can’t even imagine a world where sorts of violence against women is so normalised. So I really feel that if we can start to turn the tide and create change now, then we really could be helping our future generations.”

Emma Kay co-founder of WalkSafe

WalkSafe uses police crime data with a live map so users can see the most recent crimes wherever they are. It also has a community icon where people can report issues such as no streetlights so it can be added to the map.

Emma said: “You can really start to understand the area you live in, or even you know, around London, actually, we go across the whole of the UK, and help you to kind of make safer choices that will also enable you to over a period of time spot patterns of crime. So you can again, avoid certain areas or choose safer routes.”

The app also has other safety features such as its HomeSafe and TapSafe features, and a check in function.

The HomeSafe feature works by sending a notification of your last known location should you fail to arrive home on time. With TapSafe, which has been activated over 20,000 times in the last six months, users can notify loved ones if they are feeling scared walking home alone by tapping the feature.

While the check in allows someone to check in on you at a given time.

Have the apps seen an increase in users since Sarah Everard’s murder?

Hollie Guard, which operates only in the UK, saw tens of thousands of new sign-ups in the month of Sarah’s murder.

In total the app has around 350,000 users for the free and upgraded packages.

Poppy said last year saw a large increase in users: “We had about 190,000 new sign ups, and in March alone when the news of Sarah Everard broke out we had about 80,000 new users to Hollie Guard during that time - it definitely had an impact.”

WalkSafe has been downloaded close to 600,000 times, and in the past five months has had 60,000 new sign-ups.

Emma said they had “sadly” noticed an increase after the deaths of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa.

She said: “It’s really bittersweet. I feel that it’s we love that there’s something there that people feel comforted in using, so we love that we’ve got our app should people need it. But at the same time when we do see a huge spike in downloads, and it’s tragically usually around a case like Sarah Everard or Sabina Nessa, then it’s bittersweet.

“We feel awful that people actually feel that they need it and they feel fearful when out and about.”

How do the apps help women?

Hollie Guard has a reporting feature which essentially acts as an evidence log. Poppy said some of the app’s users will come to them and ask for an export to use in court.

With regard to personal safety she said just having it active while walking but not needing to use it has helped others feel “confident”.

However, she said: “As a charity we do recognise that apps are not the answer to the issue of violence against women, we hope with the app it can help people feel safer.”

Any evidence stored through the alert system is safe from misuse.

Poppy said: “The user has power of control as to who they nominate to send those alerts. Also all the evidence collected through the alerts aren’t stored on the phones they are stored on our servers so the video evidence, the calls can’t be deleted if someone had access to the user’s phone.”

Meanwhile, WalkSafe founder Emma said many people “feel comforted from having something in their pocket, should they need it”.

WalkSafe is among the apps which has seen an increase in downloads.

But she added: “We’re not by any means the solution. We are a tiny weeny part of that solution. So much more needs to be done across the board, we just need to change societal opinions, we need to work on our education about consent.

“There had been at times people say, how does WalkSafe work if people could actually follow someone down a safe route?

“Well, we don’t actually give safe roads. We give a general overview of patterns of crime and we say to people to regularly check them out. The set patterns will change over a course of time but what it does enable you to do is really get a feel for what is happening within your area and make safer choices overall, so less of specific roads and more general.”

What other safety apps are there?

PathCommunity - The app allows people to flag up problematic areas to councils and police. It also recommends safe routes to take. The app will track your route and notify someone you’ve chosen from your contacts if you stop moving, stray 40 metres away from your route or start moving at a much increased speed. Find out more on the Path website.

Red Panic Button - Users of the app can press a red button and it will immediately send a text and an email containing your GPS coordinates in a Google Maps link to all your emergency contacts. It also has a feature where you can post in real time a panic tweet to your entire list of friends and followers, revealing your current address.

OneScream - It is specifically geared towards detecting a panic scream. You add three people as nominated contacts to be notified if you need help. The OneScream app is left to run in the background. If the app is triggered a loud siren sounds, and there is a 20-second window to cancel the alarm if needed.

SafeUp - The app recently launched in London, but is available around the world. SafeUp works by works by connecting members in the cities it is active in with other females who act as guardians - who can come to their aid if they feel unsafe or are in danger.

BSafe - This works by the activation of the SOS button with your voice. When activating the SOS alarm, preset guardians such as friends and family will receive an audio alarm and a notification with your current location. They will be able to see and hear what’s happening in real-time via live streaming. Find out more on the BSafe site.

Follo - when activated for a walk, this free app monitors the user’s device with four safety triggers until they safely reach their destination. If something unusual happens while the app is activated, Follo will send a timed and security-enabled notification to the user’s phone checking in on them first. If unresponsive, the app, which works worldwide, automatically alerts the user’s pre-selected key contacts via SMS. The message contains the user’s last recorded location, the reason for the alert and a link to recommended guidance on how to respond.

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