The Garde Ton Corps (protect your body) app was developed by yoga teacher Pauline Vanderquand in the southern French town of Aix-en-Provence after she and her friends experienced harassment and assaults on the streets.
She told French newspaper Le Parisien: “It all started with a personal story. I was followed in the street, I asked for help at an institution and they wouldn't let me in. A little later, a friend was assaulted. I got really fed up, the next day I started the app project, too many stories of harassment were coming back to me.”
After help from the police and mairie (town hall) in Aix she then expanded the app to Marseille, where 20,000 people downloaded it in in the week of its launch in March.
Lockdown then delayed her plans, but the app is now available across France to download on Android, and will be available for iPhones later in August.
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The app has several functions.
The first 'I'm going home' allows users to transmit the geolocation of your route home to trusted people in your contacts book, using the phone's location services.
The second 'help me' is for use in an emergency situation, if there is a problem a pre-loaded alert message is sent via test-message to selected contacts in your address book, giving your location and the amount of battery left on your phone.
For those in selected locations there is also the 'safe places' option, which gives a list of establishments, usually bars, that have partnered with the app offering themselves as a safe space where women can go if they are being followed or harassed in the street.
Pauline has already partnered with several establishments in Aix and Marseille and is now working on getting Paris bars signed up to the app, helped her by ambassador in the area Anita Mas.
Bars or other establishments register themselves with the app as a 'safe space' and users can then find the nearest safe space to them in case of problems.
The app is free to download but bars and other partners pay a fee to register themselves, which goes towards helping the development of the app.
Amokrane Messous, manager of the Le Mondial bar in the 10th arrondissement, is one of those who has signed up.
He said: “The concept is interesting because in this neighborhood, after a certain time, there are security problems. Some people may feel uncomfortable. For women, it's a real plus to know that they can find a safe place.”
Street harassment is a long-standing problem in France, with public transport a particular problem.
A study in 2017 showed that at least 267,000 people, mostly women, were sexually abused on public transport in France over a two-year period.
In 2018 France brought it a new law that punishes sexual harassment in public spaces.