opinion

Constance Hall: 'The COVID-19 contact tracing app has some people frightened. I understand why.'

The Federal Government has recently announced that they are developing an app to track the movements of Australians in a bid to track anyone who has come into contact with COVID-19. At first, this sounds like a fabulous idea. Our prime minister says it will allow us to ease restrictions, returning to some semblance of normal life, and the automation of contact tracing will be crucial to containing the spread of this virus.

When I was 16, I contracted chlamydia via non consensual sex with my then-boyfriend, (trust me, this is going somewhere, its not just a random opportunity to talk about my vag). I had never had sex without a condom because I was petrified of getting pregnant, or – thanks to a childhood of Grim Reaper ad – catching HIV. We were kissing in bed when he announced he didn’t have any condoms left (lies), and I said, well then, we can’t do ‘it’.

Short story short, he just rammed it inside me. It didn’t get all the way in when I pushed him off me and repeated, “I said no.”

Not even a week later I started having a burning sensation when I peed that felt just like a urinary tract infection – so I was sculling Ural from the chemist like there was no tomorrow. Then the charmer cheated on me with a friend of ours, which I noticed because she was wearing a ring that I left beside his bed. We obviously broke up, and one of his female friends told me that he had chlamydia and was refusing to acknowledge or treat it.

My world stopped. I had no idea what that was, but I started worrying it was the burning I was feeling when I went to the toilet. Was it deadly? Could I ever have children? We didn’t have Google, so assuming the worst and not wanting to tell my mum, I made an appointment with the only free doctor, the one at the public hospital.

I was nervous as hell showing someone the inside of my vagina for the first time. I mean, I wasn’t exactly having the kind of sex that came with a map and a head torch – it was an in and out in the dark type of operation.

I always tell people that when someone is vulnerable, the way you treat them will resonate forever. Their vulnerability is like an open wound, and what you put in there will fester, even when the wound is closed. Put clean antiseptic (kindness) and it will close, healthy, and the scar tissue will make them even stronger. Put germs and dirt (judgements and cruelty) and the wound will close, become infected, and one day, they might end up losing a whole limb.

Watch: Constance Hall on No Filter. Post continues after video.

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That’s why I always remember this doctor. She saw my vulnerability and she filled it with kindness. She had huge crazy dyed red curly hair, looked more like an artist than a doctor, and when she noticed my 16-year-old hands shaking, she said, “Con, do you know how many vaginas I look inside every day? I also work at a sexual health, family planning centre. I specialise in youths and I would see about 20 vaginas just like yours every day. I look at a vagina like you would look at a hand. The last time you met someone, did you look at their hands?”

“No,” I responded.

“Well fat chance I’m looking at your vagina. I’m looking at cells and discharges, inflamed skin. Your privacy is still very much your privacy”

Of course, that put me at ease. What’s more, she knew I was in pain and knew I didn’t have any money so she said to me, “Look I can give you the treatment for chlamydia. It’s downstairs in the hospital’s pharmacy. And if your test comes back negative, they won’t do you any harm anyway. It’s literally just two pills, antibiotics, and I’ll call you when I get your results.”

I couldn’t believe how kind she was being, and she only wanted one thing from me.

“In return Con, I want you to give me the details of anyone you have slept with since your boyfriend gave you this STD. I want his details and I want any girls’ details that he has also slept with or any of the girls that any of the boys that you’ve slept with. I don’t care how many there are, I need them all. Not everyone is as lucky as you to develop symptoms, some people go undiagnosed and untreated. Boys are often fine and become carriers, but girls who don’t develop symptoms can become very unwell, and it can affect fertility if left long term. I will contact them completely anonymously with any details you have – places of work, phone numbers, street names. I will find them.”

I hadn’t slept with anyone else yet. I gave her the details of my ex-boyfriend and the friend of mine he had slept with, and I felt good about that. Like I was on her team and she was the STD warrior who had been sent from the gods to protect our vaginas, and I was one of her sidekicks. I skipped downstairs with my doctor’s note for free medicine and off I trotted, a warrior in the tracing of a vagina-hunting virus.

And that’s what popped into my head when I first heard about the COVID-19 tracking app. Some quirky, red-headed COVID warrior tracking and killing and battling this lung-hunting virus. I hoped for a name like the The Hunter Games, To Kill a Covid-Turd.

To me… there was just one small problem. I don’t understand high tech phone stuff. In fact, that’s been used against me many times. I’ve been hacked and tracked, you name it. The fact that our iPhones know every single detail about us is fantastic, it makes life so much more convenient and if you don’t have any enemies, I say f*cking brilliant.

 

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I’ve written like 50 different posts about how I feel today, trying to come up with different ways to cheer you all up. If you watch my stories you’ll Know that my kids are physically abusing each other and trying to kill me with wining before any virus gets anywhere near this house. I guess I’ve always thought that if the country was in crisis we would all be huddled up together somewhere safe, playing games with the kids and talking all night. There was always that element of togetherness in my lock down fantasy’s. But this just feels so lonely. Even families aren’t seeing each other. My single and widow’d aunties have packed up and moved in together to survive isolation together and I think I’m pretty jealous. And I don’t even have it that tough, I live with 2 men and 6 kids. I know there are people out there who live alone. I just want to be around women. I miss the women in my life. Everything feels so serious right now, I feel like I need to nut it out with the women I love. While the men go out and shoot kangaroos or something, I guess deep down, having grown up in a world of gender stereotypes they bring me some kind of comfort. I worry that all this time protecting our physical health is destroying our mental health. So I’m putting the word out to a couple of single mums that I know that if they self isolate for 2 weeks and have no symptoms they can come and stay with me and my kids. I’m not doing that out of the kindness of my heart, I’m doing it because I need a sister to go through this with. Only men just doesn’t cut it for me. Anyway what I really want to know is how are you?? What are you feeling? Are you ok?? Please share your feelings, no matter how trivial they are in the comments. I was reading my inbox today, one woman just found out her husband is cheating, while another Queen wanted to know if I thought she was paranoid for thinking her mother in law is trying to infect them with the virus. This stuff brings me comfort ????????‍♀️ Ps BV is refusing to wear clothes. She told me that Quarentine Billie doesn’t get dressed. I couldn’t argue with that… Maybe none of us should be wearing clothes. Con xx

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If…. you don’t have any enemies.

I’ve read so many comments, “If you say no to the app you are condemning Australia to becoming the next Italy,” and “My mum’s life is more important than your privacy,” and so on and so on. I’ve read articles that state we do not have the time to debate this. It would be great if we did, but this fast-spreading virus puts us in an extraordinary position.

All of which is completely valid of course.

And then, like always, comments became cruel – mocking, guilting and bullying those who dared question the app.

But still my mind wonders back, to a time where I would rather throw my mobile phone away than turn the location settings on.

From what we currently know about the app, it will be similar to the the Singapore TraceTogether app, which uses Bluetooth to detect anyone you come into contact with who also has the app.

If there’s a coronavirus case, authorities can instantaneously enact contact tracing by seeing who that person came into contact with. The technology uses ‘anonymised IDs’, so the only personal data stored is a person’s phone number, which isn’t shared with anyone else. The Singapore version does not trace people’s locations, but we don’t know yet whether the Australian one will differ.

Given it’s brand new, we also don’t know what it means more broadly for privacy and security. We don’t know how it could be hacked, or how it could be misused by those working closely with it.

Listen to Mamamia’s daily news podcast, The Quicky, on the three ways the COVID-19 pandemic could end in Australia. Post continues after audio.

People in danger, like women in domestic violence situations, do not have the luxury of this ambiguity, especially when they’ve already had bad experiences.

I know people who didn’t even know they were sharing their locations with their ex. A friend who had a restraining order against her partner was unknowingly sharing her location settings with her ex and was convinced she was going mad when he or his friends would randomly appear wherever her and her new partner were. Several apps on her phone were also sharing her location without her knowledge. She’s an out-of-the-work-force mum, an artist and I believe her lack of technological understanding was used to stalk her.

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Stalking via technology has increased greatly over recent years. An overpowering DV perpetrator will insist phones are set up together, assuring he maintains full access and control to his victim’s every move. There are a great deal of women out there who look at GPS and iCloud as nothing more then surveillance devices.

Technological stalking brings in-person stalking and domestic violence to a whole other level. It leaves victims feeling unsettled at all times, rather then just when they are at a known location.

One of the first things many women’s refuges will do when meeting a victim is turn off the location services on their phone. Some centres for victims of domestic violence will hand out new phones to victims fleeing tech savvy abusers.

There is a real and valid fear associated with turning your location services on for many, many women. So you can see how talk of a contact tracing app might set off alarm bells.

So, how do we overcome some people’s fears to support the super hero tracker app that’s going to hunt COVID-19?

With understanding. Information. And a little bit of patience.

Some women (and men) will simply not be able to use the app, and of course, if that number is high, it may impact the functionality of the strategy.

But anger, exasperation and abuse doesn’t change people’s minds. Or make them feel safe.

Instead, with their wounds open, we need to fill them with kindness and understanding. Just like my doctor did when I was 16.

You just don’t know where people are coming from, so let them feel safe to ask questions. If you don’t know what it’s like to have your privacy breached, then approach those who live in fear with respect and understanding. Offer to help, offer to talk them through their location using apps, explain the technological side of things and listen to the fear side of things.

Abusing, judging and guilting people will get you nowhere. In fact, it might actually push the fence-sitters further away from downloading anything.

We all want this disease to f*ck off. We all want to track the invisible cases that lurk in the corners.

Stop letting COVID-19 come between us. Divided we will fall, but I really believe that united we can stand, healthy and at least 1.5 metres away from each other.

Remember that everyone is vulnerable right now, even those who come across tough and strong. How we treat each other is what we put in each other’s open wounds, and will have a lasting impact.

For more from Constance Hall, you can follow her on FacebookInstagram, or her website. You can buy her book, Still A Queen, here.

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