Trekking up the Sahara stairs under the dim lights after a middle-of-the-night QT run. Being invited to a party with that person you kind of know at the person’s apartment you sort of remember meeting once in a neighborhood you’re pretty sure is nearby. Having to walk home after realizing your friends up and forgot about you while you were in the bathroom. A dinner date gone awkward as hell. A relationship gone sour—or worse, abusive and dangerous.
We’ve all been there one way or another. I would bet my last dollar that every student has, at some point, felt unsafe or uncomfortable either on or around the Hill, and has been faced with the dilemma: who can I call? And in the wake of this semester’s campus-wide Title IX training and two recent Letters to the Editor on college campus violence, hate speech and harassment I do not think there could be a more pertinent time to talk about safety apps.
My sophomore year, I downloaded Circle of 6, “a free app that prevents violence before it happens,” and I’ve been utilizing its features ever since. The concept is simple: choose 6 trusted people from your contacts who live nearby. As you choose each one, the application sends him or her a text message explaining his or her role as a member of your circle. You can change your settings to cater to your lifestyle and needs, but the basic app addresses three major problems that the makers believe college students face the most: securing a safe ride home, wanting a way out of a conversation or needing advice about serious stuff.
The design of this app is super simple, as the design principles revolve around being discreet. The idea is that, when faced with an unsafe or uncomfortable situation, the afflicter of the harm or discomfort will not realize that you are asking for assistance from your circle, which is very manageable in this current day and age where we’re constantly staring at and pawing at our screens anyway.
Seeking assistance involves a literal click of a button. Press the middle circle, and three icons pop up. The car icon will open an already-drafted text message to your circle that includes a request to be picked up and a Google Maps link to your exact location. If the phone icon is activated, the text message will read, “Call me and pretend you need me. I need an interruption.” The text bubble icon launches a message aimed to make those tough conversations a little less so: “I’m looking up information about healthy relationships. Just letting you know.” Then, the message provides a link to loveisrespect.org, a partnership between Break the Cycle and the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which provides support and assistance from trained peer advocates.
And once the message has been sent and a member of the circle has responded, there is a one-touch way to let the remaining five know in the form of a tiny checkmark in the bottom left corner of the screen. This free ios app is straightforward in the best way. In fact, it proved itself in the White House’s 2011 Apps Against Abuse Technology Challenge. There are no frills or strings attached, and no assumptions made about its users. Unlike some of its competitors, it does not “cater to women” with idiotic, flowery backgrounds or try to profit off of college students’ vulnerability with banner advertisements. It does its job by educating college students of all genders, combating the bystander effect and working to end the cycle of violence—all with a circle.