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“Companion” app: A safer way to walk home, and other resources

As students, crime and the overall safety on campus is a concern we’ve all faced. It’s hard not to when you wake up after a night out to an email alerting everyone of a crime report from a place you had been the night before. Because of this, it’s normal for people who have to walk home alone from a class in the dark to be a bit nervous or wary of their surroundings.

Well, there’s an app for that. Students have created an app called “Companion” with the intent of helping users to feel more secure when walking home alone by allowing users to select a companion to monitor their progress. The app is set up to input a destination and select as many people from your contacts list to be your companions as feels necessary. Your chosen companions will receive a message (even if they don’t have the app) and can accept your request and follow you by GPS on your trip. The front screen also has an “I Feel Nervous” button which will alert your companion, and a “Call Police” button for more dire situations.

“I think it seems like a good way of encouraging accountability among friends,” said Emma Sharp, a member of the Sexual Wellness Advocacy Team (S.W.A.T.) for three terms. “I think that’s the biggest potential for change, is people looking out for each other.”

Read Casey Miller’s “I do not feel safe walking alone at night on campus”

Safety apps like these are created for the purpose of eliminating a very small percentage of crime. UO professor Jennifer Freyd conducted a study that spoke about the myth that stranger attacks are common occurrences. Those who create dialogue about safety on or around campus, like members of S.W.A.T., emphasize that paying attention to the phone in your hand is potentially dangerous, as it leaves you more vulnerable than if you were aware of your surroundings.

“I think there should be a reframing of these apps to be more about being safe with friends and acquaintances and not just about somebody jumping out at you,” said Cassie Smith, a sixth-term S.W.A.T. member.

Both Smith and Sharp agree that security apps like Companion could have more potential if marketed as an app for when you are moving from a public to private place instead. For instance, if you and somebody you met on Tinder wanted to move from a coffee shop to their house for a movie, it would allow the user to show companions their location safely and communicate with a tap of a button if they felt uncomfortable.

“These apps are only useful if people are choosing to use them, but it’s not preventing the likelihood of an issue while walking,” said Kelly McIver, Public Information Officer for the UOPD. “But it creates extra steps in responding to a certain emergency [as compared to just calling]. We would prefer if people take transportation, walk with a friend, call Safe Ride, use our escort system, etc.”

Smith and Sharp also feel that as students, this app could be beneficial if made to cater toward UO’s culture of reporting crimes and high safety measures by including Safe Ride and UOPD numbers as an option as well.

In theory, apps like Companion are great, as they provide a sense of security, especially when we are faced with the vulnerability of walking alone with the risk of crime. But in practice they reflect the need for conversation on how we can make students feel safer in the face of these issues of crime, without the added risk of having to rely solely on an app to do so. 

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Jordyn Brown

Jordyn Brown