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Faced by threat of a sexual assault? There's an app for that.

Two apps, available early next year, are intended to help prevent sexual assault and abuse, especially on college campuses. They won Vice President Biden's 'Apps Against Abuse' technology challenge.

By Staff writer / November 1, 2011



Young people concerned about sexual assault will soon have some technological tools that may help.

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On Tuesday, Vice President Joseph Biden announced the winners of the “Apps Against Abuse” challenge that he launched in July with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in an effort to harness mobile technology to fight sexual abuse.

The two winning apps – “Circle of 6” and “OnWatch” – both offer users immediate ways to get help and let friends know they’re in trouble and where they are.

“Kids need to be able to communicate through the devices they actually use,” said Vice President Biden in announcing the winners on a conference call with college and university officials, in which he discussed a range of measures that campuses can take to help prevent sexual abuse. “A young woman with this app could use the app to send a message, with her location, to family, friends, or the campus police.”

Both apps will be available for free early next year.

Circle of 6 asks users to add five contacts to their “circle.” In a threatening or difficult situation, they can tap on an icon to instantly take various steps –either send a message to all five contacts asking them to come get them, to call them, to ask for advice, or to automatically call the Love is Not Abuse hot line.

OnWatch similarly has users set up a list of “anytime, anywhere, any reason” friends. In one mode, a user can write an advance message (“I’ll be partying at XYZ fraternity, I may be in trouble, call me and then call campus security,” for instance), set a timer, and either cancel the message if everything is fine or have it go out when the timer elapses. It also has a “panic” button that the user can hit that both calls 911 and sends a text message and an e-mail to those pre-set contacts. Those messages include GPS coordinates of the sender's locale and a note that the person may be in danger. Other features allow for easy check-in with contacts, or for immediate calls to campus security or 911.

“With these applications, a personal electronic device becomes a powerful tool to help young women and men protect themselves, and their friends, from becoming victims of violence,” Biden said.

Biden also emphasized his broader commitment to helping college campuses, in particular, reduce violence against women. Currently, 1 in 5 women is a victim of sexual assault while in college, Biden said, citing studies.

In September, Biden launched his 1is2Many project, asking high school and college students to submit ideas for reducing campus and school violence. And in April, the US Department of Education, along with Biden, announced new guidance under Title IX for how schools and universities should address the issue.

“We are seeing extraordinary change,” said Russlyn Ali, assistant secretary of human rights at the Department of Education, on the conference call. “You all at the college and university level are really models not just for your colleagues in higher education institutions, but for superintendents and K-12 faculty also dealing with trends in sexual violence in ways they’ve never had to before.”

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