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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Lori Adelman is a writer and advocate focusing on race, gender, and sexual and reproductive rights. In addition to serving as an Executive Director at Feministing, Lori is the Director of Global Communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Lori has previously worked at the United Nations Foundation, the International Women’s Health Coalition, and Human Rights Watch, and has written for a host of print and digital properties including Rookie Magazine, The Grio, and the New York Times Magazine. She regularly appears on radio and television, and has spoken at college campuses across the U.S. about topics like the politics of black hair, transnational movement building, and the undercover feminism of Nicki Minaj. In 2014, she was named to The Root 100 list of the nation's most influential African Americans, and to the Forbes Magazine list of the "30 Under 30" successful people in media.

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

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