Using Bluetooth beacons and micro-location technology, the app lets users find their friends even without signal – its founders explain why it could be key for boosting reporting rates
With clubbing on and off the table sporadically in recent times, our joy at re-entering nightlife papered over the very real fear that many experience when going out: that of sexual assault. Our eagerness for ‘freedom day’ glossed over the fact that a YouGov poll published in March this year showed that 86 per cent of young women have been sexually harassed in a public place. As venues opened back up, there were multiple reports of women alleging they had been spiked by injection as well as via drinks.
In a bid to tackle feelings of anxiousness and vulnerability in dark and crowded locations, as well as dire reporting rates, a new app, Where You At, is stepping in. It works with music venues to devise detailed blueprints of their spaces, and allows users to choose their private friend circle for the night, view the precise locations of their pals within a venue, and stay connected to them all night long. There’s also the option to alert your circle when you leave, helping group people together for shared cabs home.
Founded by past and current Oxford university students Tamzin Lent and Olivia Leigh, Where You At’s head of marketing Lauren Levine came on board six months down the line. “In my first year of university, I experienced sexual assault following a night out,” she tells Dazed. “I really struggled for a year, and eventually posted on Facebook about my experience.”
Lent saw Levine’s post, and it prompted the idea for an app that would allow people to locate their friends in clubs, even without signal. “Experiences of sexual assault on nights out are incredibly common,” Levine continues. “When I posted about my experience, 13 girls reached out and said they had suffered something similar. All of us in the WYA team have either experienced sexual assault personally, or have a close friend who has done.”
“It’s such an important issue to tackle,” she continues. “Sexual harassment and assault are so ubiquitous I think we forget the very real toll it takes on those who experience it. It’s not only a night out, the legacy – in PTSD, in fear of going out, in all the many ways that people change their behaviour – is enormous.” Below, Dazed speaks to Where You At to find out how the technology works, and how it could help boost reporting rates and make nightlife safer.
How does the technology work?
WYA: Our technology allows people to find their friends, even if they don’t have a signal. Bluetooth beacons form a mesh network across the club, and emerging micro-location technology allows you to see where your friends are – even down to the cubicle. It’s like Find My Friends on steroids. You can also actively alert them if you feel unsafe. In the short term, we hope to tackle sexual assault by allowing people to find their friends – if you have someone making you feel uncomfortable, you can bring your friends together, so you’re not left alone with them.
“Often those who experience sexual assault do not report it, because they don’t have a coherent narrative of events” – Where You At
What would you like to see happen as an outcome?
WYA: We hope to keep people safe in the long term in two ways. We want to increase reporting rates. Often those who experience sexual assault do not report it, because they don’t have a coherent narrative of events. By showing when and where the alert was sent from, we can help them form a clearer picture of where they were when the event occurred, and it becomes easier to find witnesses. The second way is through passing on the data of where alerts are sent to venues. This allows them to make the most effective changes (installing a security guard, altering lighting, et cetera) to address sexual assault.
What happens if a user’s phone dies?
WYA: If someone’s phone dies, unfortunately we can’t help. I think the thing that we always try to stress is WYA is not a silver bullet – it’s not going to stop all instances of sexual assault. But – hopefully – we can reduce the frequency that they occur. Bluetooth beacons form a mesh network over the club and allow individuals to locate their friends, which is what allows them to stay in touch.
You use timestamped indicators of when and how people feel unsafe – how does this work?
WYA: Depending on which beacon is ‘triggered’, we can see when and where the alert was sent.
Could this information be turned over to the police or used in court, for example?
WYA: Individuals send alerts to their friends using an SOS button. This triggers a Bluetooth beacon, and the app records when the alert was sent and to which beacon. In principle, this information would be something that can be passed on to the police.
Are there any other features that the app has?
WYA: We also have a collection of artists (WYA Circle) who commit to helping keep their fans safe, and promote the app, and a group of ten writers who discuss this topic (WYA writes).
Where You At is being trialled in venues now, and it is expected to be seen in clubs from March 2022 - find out more information here