In a bid to prevent crimes against women, all mobile phones sold in India will soon have a physical panic button installed. Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister for Department of Telecommunications announced on Twitter that the new rule will go into effect in January 2017. When pressed, the panic button will send an alert to police and people chosen by the phone’s user.
A release by the Indian government’s Press Information Bureau said regulators decided a physical panic button is better than an app, however, because “a woman in distress does not have more than a second or two to send out a distress message as a perpetrator will often reach out to her mobile phone in the event of a physical/sexual assault.”
While we appreciate this initiative by the Government of India and feel it is a step in the right direction, we also feel that it is once again a case of looking for cures rather than preventive techniques. Although, helplines and panic buttons are a start in this endeavour, but there is no guarantee that they will help reduce crimes like rape. For one thing, about 70 percent of incidents are committed in homes by people known to victims, which makes them harder to prevent. Furthermore, the majority of crimes against women are still unreported because of social stigma and cumbersome legal procedures—issues that can’t be solved by a button or phone number.
Once a case is reported, there are a number of mechanisms which come into play- such as the role of police, availability of ambulances, legal redressal systems and social stigma. It is also important for the policy makers to take these myriad of forces into consideration, when addressing crimes against women. So while we do feel that the presence of panic buttons will definitely increase the reporting of crimes against women, other systems also need to be in place for it to be truly effective.