Avoiding attack? There’s an app for that

Published 10:50 pm Friday, April 13, 2012

Want help being proactive when it comes to sexual violence? Don’t worry. There’s an app for that.

The app “Circle of 6” is the winner of the 2011 White House “Apps Against Abuse” Technology Challenge. It’s an iPhone application that offers an innovative group- texting service aimed at helping college-age adults escape some unsafe situations.

With only a couple of screen taps, “Circle of 6” sends a pre-written message to six close friends. One scenario, suggested by app creators, involves wanting to leave an uncomfortable conversation. There’s an option to use two screen taps to send a message to six pre-selected people that reads, “Call me and pretend you need me. I need an interruption.”

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Another option allows users to send a message with two taps alerting their six friends that they need help safely getting home. The app automatically attaches the users’ location to the text.

“I think that is a great idea,” said Bethany Grimes, a 21-year-old Troy University student. “I have friends who would always be willing to come help, but to be able to send a message to all of them at once for something immediate is wonderful.”

Grimes said she doesn’t go anywhere at night alone and tries to have someone with her when she’s out for any reason, but she said she’d be checking into downloading the new app for her iPhone as an extra precaution.

Another bonus of the app: “Circle of 6” also provides an easy way to contact a national hotline and local and campus police quickly.

The thought behind building the application around six people, creators said, is that the number provides an opportunity to reach out to a group big enough that at least one person can help, but is small enough to limit the group to people the user trusts.

“It sounds like a modern twist on the buddy system,” said Jenny Duncan, assistant coordinator and counselor for the Sexual Abuse and Violence Education Project at Troy University. “It could be a great back-up plan to use.”

However, Duncan said, it’s still important to try and avoid potentially unsafe situations altogether.

“I think it is important to depend on yourself,” Duncan said. “Be aware of surroundings and enroll in a self-defense class. Safety and prevention is key.”

Duncan also suggests having an old-fashioned buddy system in place when going out at night, or to parties.

“Make a pact to keep an eye on each other. Arrive together and leave together,” Duncan said. “Don’t leave anyone behind.”

It’s also a good idea when going out on first dates, or when dating someone unfamiliar, to give information about where you are going and who your date is to a family member or friend. Then, call that person when you get home to let them know you are safe.

Duncan suggests, at least for the first several dates, to be cautious and keep meetings to public places. If a date comes about because of an Internet match-up, it’s a good idea to exercise even more precaution.

“Give your family and friends a code word so when you call them, they easily know you need help,” Duncan said.

April is Sexual Violence Awareness Month in the United States.