UK charity National Ugly Mugs (NUM) has teamed up with Reason Digital – a digital agency that works with not-for-profit organisations – to create a new app that aims to improve the personal safety of sex workers through sharing real-time alerts to other nearby users.
NUM, also the name of the app, was recently piloted in Manchester and London and was co-designed with sex workers. This has resulted in specifically designed features such as a dark background to avoid lighting up faces at night and personalized alerts based on gender identity.
National Ugly Mugs aims to protect sex workers by improving access to justice and protection for this at-risk group. The organization has identified that the estimated 80,000 sex workers in the UK are disproportionately at risk of violent crimes such as assault, rape, or murder, but that they are less likely to report them.
“We know that time is always against us; the quicker people know about violent perpetrators in their immediate area, the quicker they can take steps to avoid them,” according to the UK Network of Sex Work Projects (UKNSWP).
Ed Cox, co-founder of Reason Digital, reassures potential users of the app that it won’t increase the vulnerability of sex workers and their punters by making their location known to criminals:
“Individuals need to be registered with National Ugly Mugs in order to use the app. This way, we can be sure the only people using the app are sex workers known to the organisation and can’t be abused by criminals seeking to compromise the safety of sex workers.”
Using similar geo-location technology as Grindr, the app keeps its alerts local, which Cox says negates the need for a central database that tracks the movements of individual sex workers, thus increasing anonymity.
However, given the recent headlines around Grindr’s geo-location services leaking data services, it’s perhaps not the best example to be drawing on.