How one woman's abduction led to the Watch Over Me app
“Send me home, please.”
Sometimes, I like to pretend that no one has managed to sound quite as plaintive but threatening as I did when I gently pressed an arrowhead into a taxi driver's neck. I had fallen asleep in the back of the cab, only to wake up without a clue where I was. No further words were exchanged after that. I kept my arrow—I practiced archery in college—rested under the arc of his jaw, and he kept on driving. Two hours later, I got home. Over the years, I've wondered about what would have happened if I had not been carrying a bag of pointy projectiles, or if I had not woken up in time. The possibilities still terrify me.
Although we'd like to think otherwise, women are still abducted on a daily basis. Sometimes, you get lucky. Sometimes, you don't. And once in a while, you escape by the skin of your teeth.
One woman narrowly fought off a kidnapping last year, and although the incident continues to haunt her, she refuses to stay silent. Instead, she has decided to learn from her experience and create a mobile app designed to help women—anyone, really—avoid falling victim themselves. Here is her story.
Watch Over Me
In May 2012, Xin-Ci Chin found herself living through what could almost pass as a Hollywood-created nightmare. She was running some errands at The Curve, a massive shopping mall in Mutiara Damansara, Malaysia, that boasts about 180 retail stores, and thought nothing was out of the ordinary as she walked back to her car in the basement level of the mall’s parking garage.
“It was a Sunday at about 5 p.m. I went shopping for some random things—dinner, printer supplies, boring stuff,” she says. “After walking back to the car, I opened the door and was reaching in when someone slammed the car door into my back before raising a knife to my throat. He then clapped a hand over my mouth and said, 'Don't scream.' so I didn't. He pushed me into the backseat. Another guy appeared and got into the driver's seat. Next thing you know, they were driving off with me in the car.”
The next few minutes were a blur for the then 25-year-old Chin. After quietly unlocking the car door, she made an attempt to leap out of the moving vehicle only to be pulled back in. Over the next third of a mile or so, Chin fought off her attackers. She recalls that, at one point, her legs were dangling out of the car.
“I remember biting someone,” the petite woman remarks, with a laugh tinged with both fear and resentment. “I remember kicking. I think I punched someone, as well; there were bruises on my knuckles the next day. I don't really know what happened next, but at one point I managed to stumble out of the car—yes, it was still moving—before running straight back to the shopping complex for help.”
Her polite veneer slips. Her smile disappears. “When I got to actually thinking about it, I realized that if I hadn't managed to escape, no one would know where I was. No one would know for at least 12 hours. My boyfriend was out of town; my parents live in another state. I had just gotten off the phone with my dad, so there was no way he'd call till the next day. The reality is that no one would have known what could have happened until long after everything was over.”
Chin didn't escape the ordeal unscathed. Up until the past few months prior to her interview with TechHive, she was unable to even bring herself to drive a car. “I was going through a really rough time when I met my cofounder. He had developed a safety app, but it only had a basic interface. We started talking, and I thought that this would be the best way to channel my rage and frustration.”
Watch Over Me is the result of that encounter. A streamlined alternative to standard panic-button apps, Watch Over Me operates on a simple premise: You tell the app what you're doing (it has a preset list that includes tasks such as walking to your car and meeting someone new) and how long you believe you'll take to accomplish that task. If you do not report back within that time frame, Watch Over Me will then, depending on the subscription type you have, send an alert to your listed emergency contacts via Facebook, email, or SMS.
Is it just a notification? According to Chin, it will do much more than let people know what's going on. Watch Over Me will purportedly send details such as when you started your errand, the moment the app began tracking your movements, your current location, what you were supposed to be doing at that time—it will even time-stamp events and locations for posterity's sake. “If you have the paid version, Watch Over Me will also turn on your mobile device's camera so as to be able to take snapshots of what's going on.”
Simplicity was Chin's main priority during the development process. “There are other apps out there, but the problem with most panic-button applications is that, when your back is against the wall, there's just no time to reach into your bag, grab your phone, locate the app, and actually activate it. They don't work. I wish they did, but they don't.”
Chin says that she still has trouble parking in a shopping mall alone, and while that she believes that women should not have to live in constant fear, people need to understand that bad things happen. “We need to fight to have people recognize that violence against women is wrong, but we also need to recognize that it's always a possibility and has been since time immemorial.”
Like many other applications out there, Watch Over Me comes in two formats: a paid version and a free version. The free version lets you add only a single emergency contact and limits you to email and Facebook notifications. The paid version, which costs $2 every month, allows you to add an unlimited number of emergency contacts, offers a shake-to-trigger function that you can use in lieu of a traditional panic button, and more. Watch Over Me is available for both iOS and Android.
Safety starts with taking precautions and being more aware of what’s going on around you. “I think my biggest mistake that day was simply that I wasn't aware enough,” Chin says. “If I had been paying more attention, I might have noticed that man following me. Maybe. It might have changed things. With Watch Over Me, we're hoping that the app will help flip that switch in your head and make you more in tune with your situation. Awareness can make you way more equipped to protect yourself.”