Smartphone app created at UNH to prevent sexual assault being rolled out nationwide

UNH Assault App

DURHAM, N.H. (NEWS CENTER) -- Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have created a smart phone app to help victims of sexual assault and it will soon be available at colleges nationwide.

The app is called uSafeUS. It not only collects resources for victims of sexual assault, such as contact information for nearby hospitals, police departments and sexual assault victim advocates, but it also provides tools for people to use in hopes of preventing sexual assault in the first place. 

”There are so many great resources in this state, but it’s so hard to get them into the hands of a distressed 19 year old and her friends," said Sharyn Potter, the director of the Prevention Innovation Research Center at UNH. ”We hope it’s a game-changer and schools see it as a platform for their prevention activities.”

In 2016, researchers tested the app at 21 colleges and universities across New Hampshire.

It includes a feature called "Time to Leave," which can schedule a text message or a pre-recorded phone call to ping your cell phone to help you get out of an uncomfortable situation or bad date.

There is also a feature called "Expect Me," which alerts a friend that you are on the way. You set a timer, estimating how long it will take you to get from your starting point to your destination. If you do not shut off the timer before it ends, the app texts that friend, instructing them to call you to check on you. When you do shut off the timer, it also sends a text and what in your friend know that you arrived at the location safely.

”In the moment, maybe you won’t be near your phone in case something happens so having something in the background to back you up is definitely clutch," said junior Alex Bice.

A third feature is called the "angel drink." An angel drink is a colloquial expression that people who are out at a bar use as a codeword for needing help or feeling uncomfortable. Often, a person goes up to the bartender and asks for "an angel drink." That signals to the bartender that they need to call a taxi for security. On the app, is a list of five cocktail recipes, including angel drink. The app suggests that a person shows the bartender the "recipe" for an angel drink, which, instead of ingredients, reads "I need help, I am not safe, can you get me out of here?" 

Many students at UNH liked the "Expect Me" and "Angel Drink" features, but said the "Time to Leave" feature may not be the most efficient.

”I would think if I’m in that situation, I would just pick up the phone and call 911," said Brianna Harnois, a freshman.

”I just don’t see myself going through my phone to find this specific app," said senior Cassandra Manheimer, who thought she would likely try texting or calling a friend for help.

”Your friend might not be available. They might be on their own bad date on in a test. So this is a way that you can really control the situation," said Potter. "What we hear over and over again in our bystander intervention workshop is that students want to subtly intervene. They don't want to intervene in a large way, they just want to have an easy, subtle way to exit."

While UNH Campus Police Chief Paul Dean was not available for comment Tuesday, the Town of Durham Police Chief Dave Kurz said his officers do respond to reports of sexual assault on campus, and applauded the idea of the app.

"Even if we have to respond once, it's way too many," said Cheif Kurz. "We deal with it on a frequent basis. This app puts all the resources in one location."

In an e-mail, Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine director Melanie Sachs wrote, "While I applaud the intent, I do have concerns when words like “prevention” are used when what they mean is risk reduction, which is what most of these measures are.  VERY happy to see the resources piece though, with one touch capability for accessing help and navigating systems."

The app is available for both Apple and Android.

© 2017 WCSH-TV


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