Siri Updated To Understand Sexual Assault

By Peyton Carper on April 9, 2016

Image via Macworld

Technology, smartphones in particular, has become unbelievably advanced in just the past couple of years. Phones nowadays can access information stored in a “Cloud” or other wireless storage device, send documents to printers to be printed, and some of the newer gadgets on the market are even water-resistant. But until very recently, digital assistants like Siri or Cortana had no response when the user of a phone claimed that they were raped or sexually assaulted.

Obviously, your phone can call 911 in the case of an emergency, or you can manually search for what you should do in the event of an attack, but until very recently, digital assistants had no direct response to help the user. While the phone provides encouragement to a user who tells the AI that they are sad or depressed, when told “I have been raped,” the digital assistant used to reply with a phrase along the lines of “I don’t know what that means.” This would bring up the option to search for Google results related to the phrase, but the digital assistant provided no assistance or other message directly to the users.

On March 31, however, Siri was updated to respond more appropriately to a user in distress. Upon telling Siri that you have been raped, this message appears:

Screenshot from Peyton Carper’s iPhone

The change came on the heels of much criticism toward smartphone manufacturers upon the public unearthing that digital assistants provided no response to claims of rape. To someone who has not experienced rape or sexual assault firsthand, this may seem like no big deal. But before this update, survivors of sexual violence were effectively told by their phones that what had happened to them was not classified as an emergency. Their asking for help was met with indifference, while those suffering from depression were encouraged and supported. (This is not at all to say that depressive episodes can’t be emergencies, just that sexual assault should be categorized as such as well.)

Now, though, a survivor of assault is given an immediate solution, specifically a hotline designed to comfort and guide victims of sexual violence. This helps streamline the process of a victim getting help and support and being able to take action against their attacker if so desired.

This is a small step toward ending the stigma associated with sexual violence. Acknowledging that rape is a crime that should be treated as an emergency situation will help the thousands of people who fall victim to sexual violence every year. Though it is rather telling that developers did not originally include this feature, its correction is important and possibly life saving.

Peyton Carper is an Editing, Writing, and Media student at Florida State University. She is a former staff writer with the Beaches Leader Newspaper in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. She is a fierce advocate for the awareness and prevention of sexual assault and domestic violence. She hopes to one day write biographies and own many dogs.

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