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Pioneering way to fight sexual assault on campus: phone apps

Several new smart phone apps designed to help prevent sexual assault at colleges – and even high schools – are coming online. They've had some surprising results.

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As they head to campus parties or out on dates, thousands of college students are switching from the traditional “buddy system” to mobile apps that help them reach trusted friends and emergency contacts if they feel threatened.

The tools may help ease concerns among college students who have heard the alarming statistics about sexual assault – in one major survey, nearly 30 percent of undergraduate women said they had experienced an attempted or actual assault either before or during college.

Beyond the safety factor, though, the new apps are raising awareness about how to help prevent dating abuse and sexual violence. 

Circle of 6 is a free app that uses icons to discreetly alert six contacts to a variety of scenarios: A simple tap on a car icon sends a “come and get me” text message to your circle and shows where you are with GPS. Another icon asks them to call to interrupt an uncomfortable date or other situation. Another connects to well-respected national hotlines or a local emergency number.

Jessica Kan, for one, has been eagerly anticipating the Android app, which was released Thursday, since hearing about Circle of 6 on Twitter a few months ago.

The recent graduate of University of California, Berkeley, still lives in Berkeley and plans to use the “really cool” app when she’s coming home late at night or is in a “shady situation” on a date. “Sometimes, I don’t want to be rude … and say I just want to leave now, so it makes it easy and discreet,” she says.

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