Can technology help prevent sexual assault and dating violence on college campuses?

The White House is hoping so.

They’ve launched a challenge in coordination with the Department of Health and Human Services and Vice President Joe Biden encouraging developers to create a smartphone app that will help prevent sexual assault and dating violence on college campuses. Acknowledging the high rates of sexual assault among young college-aged women in particular, (nineteen percent of women report experiencing sexual assault while in college), the “Apps Against Abuse” challenge is meant to result in an app that will “offer individuals a way to connect with trusted friends in real-time to prevent abuse or violence from occurring.”

I think this is generally a good idea, and I’m glad to see the White House acknowledging how rampant problems of sexual assault and violence are among young women, and particularly in a campus setting. I’m also heartened to see that the app explicitly mentions the role of “bystanders” and social networks in helping to prevent assault. ” Everyone has a role to play in the prevention of violence and abuse, and while no one can do everything, everyone can do something” the website reads.

Obviously, the White House isn’t the first to think about using apps to prevent sexual assault.

You’ll remember that Hollaback developed an app to document and combat street harassment; for 99 cents, the app automatically maps your location and then Hollaback will respond to you soliciting more information about the incident. It can also be used to communicate with the police, and made public so that women can plan safer commutes.

But I still think there’s a value in the White House explicitly pointing to the power of social networks and technology to help combat violence and assault, without relying on law enforcement only (who have a problematic history at best dealing with these issues).

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Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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  • sex-toy-james

    I should really check out the challenge. I’ve done a terrible job marketing it, but I did build one for precisely that purpose. It’s called RealHelp on the itunes store, and anyone who wants to get in touch can hit me up at
    Basically you hit a panic button and it invites other users to listen into live streaming audio of your situation and pinpoints your GPS location. It also records the session. I figured that rape often only happens because someone thinks they can get away with it, and involving a couple dozen people who care about you with the press of a button has to change that equation. A few dozen witnesses also helps settle “he said/she said” arguments that make it so complicated legally.
    I was actually inspired by someone in the Feminist blogosphere posting campus sexual assault statistics and thinking that there has to be something that could be done, and even a half a percent shaved off of those stats would be well worth giving it a try.
    I’d love feedback so I can have it further upgraded.

  • Josh

    “(nineteen percent of women report experiencing sexual assault while in college)”

    [citation needed]