Fake calls on TikTok may save someone’s life.
Whether it’s walking through a dark parking lot or getting into a sketchy Uber, traveling alone can be a terrifying, risky experience. Calling a trusted friend can help, but that go-to person may not always be available.
A 2014 Gallup survey found that 45 percent of women say they don’t feel safe walking alone at night. The rate for men is 27 percent. In a 2018 survey, the nonprofit Stop Street Harassment found that 66 percent of women reported being sexually harassed in public spaces. A staggering 77 percent of women also reported experiencing verbal sexual harassment, and 51 percent reported unwelcome sexual touching.
That’s why TikTok users are faking “safety calls” for worried users to play out loud. The scripted conversation prompts the viewer to respond as if they’re meeting up with the video’s creator.
In one, TikTok user donteatmycheeseburger reminds the viewer to charge their phone, noting that they downloaded a location sharing app. In another, TikTok user graciddy pretends to be annoyed at the viewer for running late. She also pretends that she can see their location, and says she’ll send someone to wait outside when they arrive.
In a more confrontational version, TikTok user lifeisweirdandsillysoami pretends to be the viewer’s irate mother to get the viewer out of a bad date.
“I don’t want to talk about what you did, come home right now,” she rants with a bite that only the mother of someone who’s broken curfew too many times can embody. “I don’t care who you’re with. I don’t care. Come home right this second or I’ll come drag you home.”
Costume designer Mendy Perdew has recorded multiple safety calls and posted them to TikTok. In one, she asks the viewer if everything’s OK, and reassures them that she’ll wait for them when they arrive. She also asks the user to show her their surroundings, but only if it’s safe to do so. Upon “seeing” how dark it is, she tells the viewer that she’s just going to keep them on the phone until she arrives.
“That just ripped me apart,” Perdew said in response to the requests for more safety call videos. “I’m a mom. I’m a human being who just wants people to live in peace and these folks are scared. I can’t ‘fix it’ but I just thought I’d try to help.”
Perdew has also posted versions for more specific situations, leaving work or school. She’s also inspired other TikTok users to record versions in other languages, included Dutch, Mandarin, and Farsi.
“My best friend and my mother work long hours and they find themselves in the dark walking across parking lots alone quite a bit,” Perdew told Mashable via Facebook Messenger. “I do my best to always answer the phone, but life happens. I made the videos with them in mind hoping I could make a few more people comfortable crossing parking lots.”
When Perdew first began posting the calls about a month ago, the hashtag #safetycall had roughly 5,000 views on TikTok. As of Tuesday, the tag has 1.8 million views.
But do these videos actually help?
TikTok user noelanijanglee used one of Perdew’s videos while being followed. The 18-year-old posted the encounter in a duet with Perdew last week. In the original video, Perdew notes that something seems off, and says she’ll keep the viewer on the phone until they arrive. Then, she starts idly chatting about dinner plans.
The viewer, in the case, managed to make it to her car with Perdew’s video playing out loud.
“Several people have used them this way and I contacted them immediately,” Perdew said. “It felt good to know people had a way to sort of ‘document’ what was happening in the moment when [calling] 911 isn’t necessary but doing nothing isn’t ideal either.”
In one instance, Perdew said she followed up with a young woman who was being followed by her ex-boyfriend. In another, a child who used her video was being followed and made it to their parents’ in time. Luckily, both viewers are still safe.
“It seems to be encouraging folks to be more aware of their surroundings,” Perdew said. “I think the videos reminded people, ‘Oh yeah! I should probably be more careful.’ That alone will help keep many of us safer.”
Perdew noted that it isn’t just young women asking her to create more calls — men are as well.
“It turns out we aren’t alone. I’ve had hundreds of requests from men who were embarrassed to admit they have been in these situations themselves,” she added.
She’s grateful that others are stepping up to make their own videos as well, especially those adapting the calls to specific regions or dialects.
“People all over the world just came together to help strangers for no reason other than kindness,” Perdew said. “During a pandemic, during a time of civil unrest, nothing mattered but safety. It’s sad but it’s also quite beautiful. I’m glad I did it.”