Developers are hoping that technology, particularly smartphones, could reshape safety efforts on college campuses, NPR reports. Several new apps offer quick ways for college students facing unsafe or uncomfortable situations to reach out to their peers, connect with resources on campus and in their communities, or notify law enforcement. These apps for the most part target sexual assault and rape, amid growing national concern about the prevalence of incidents and criticism of the ways higher education institutions are handling them.
Apps like Circle of 6, born out of a recent White House technology challenge, are in use on campuses. A student who downloads the app picks six trusted friends to join a “circle.” Then, if faced with an unsafe or dangerous situation, they can send a text to those friends with just two clicks. Hardly anyone uses blue-light call buttons already on campus, says Nancy Schwartzman, the creator of Circle of 6. What college students do use is a cell phone. “Most young people first report sexual assault to a friend or a peer, not to the police or a blue safety light,” Schwartzman says. “And they’re always on their phone.” Circle of 6 was born out of the 2011 “Apps Against Abuse” challenge, a partnership between the Office of the Vice President, the Department of Health and Human Services and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.