Can an app stop rapes in India?

*Trigger warning*

It’s been another week of protests in India as the rape of a 5-year old girl is investigated. To suggest, “rape is an epidemic” would be an unjust reduction of the very complex, harrowing and difficult situation faced by sexual assault survivors and their allies in India — as they work against a system that does not have concrete legal pathways to bring perpetrators to justice and a culture that has normalized rape.

On the heels of these high profile, violent rapes in India — the PM of India, Manmohan Singh, has reiterated that women must be protected and it’s of growing concern to the country the “safety of women.” But, suggesting we protect women is a logic that is not holding up in a political and social economy that demands women are out and about, in the workplace, taking care of their families or even just hanging out with their friends.

Feministing friend Nancy Schwartzman co-created an app that lets your friends know when you are in a situation and you want to get out of it. It has a set of pre-populated messages that either tell a friend to get in a car and come get you, or call you on the phone to give you an excuse to leave a situation, etc. that can be sent with two taps on the app. Circle of 6 launched last year and has not just proven to be an effective tool, but recognized by the White House as a tool in sexual assault prevention.

Since the violent rape and murder of Jyoti Singh in New Dehli, there has been a surge of uploads of the Circle of 6 app in India, which led its founders to release a version for India, specifically New Delhi. Nancy writes for the Huffington Post,

We realized this was a powerful moment and that people needed more tools at their disposal, so we hopped online for a quick Google + chat. We hatched a passionate and somewhat naive idea. We decided to customize Circle of 6 for India.

New Delhi is also a symbol: It is the city where the dam broke and the silence of the masses on gender-based violence was shattered.

With the release of Circle of 6 – New Delhi, the user can choose between English and Hindi language. Men and women can download and become instantly linked up with each other and join each other’s circle of trust and accountability. The GPS function has always worked internationally, but users on the ground have tested it for New Delhi specifically. The language of the app remains gender neutral, a specific translation note for the Hindi, which uses gendered nouns and objects. The app will continue to speak to users of all genders and sexual orientation. Hotlines are now pre-programmed for the newly formed 24/7 women’s hotline of New Delhi and the Jagori advocacy helpline. As a suggested third number, the user is directed to the Lawyer’s Collective, if calling the police feels unsafe, which for many women it does.

What is most exciting to me about people in India swarming to an app that will help them navigate a culture of rape is that it speaks to the complex nature of their lives — navigating a world at the intersection of outdated ideas of gender and sexuality, yet with access to tools like cell phones and advanced communications technologies. To address the complexity of rape in India, it’s going to take a combination of cultural change, legal support, access to resources and tools for survivors and teaching a) men not to rape and b) that rape is not an inevitable byproduct of a woman being in public (ugh).

Circle of 6 is a tool that addresses the reality of people’s lives — we’re going to be out and about, so let’s create communities that will help when the legal system and the culture are failing us.

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