Safety Sync: uSafeUS App

Feb 05th, 2018

In this quarter’s Safety Sync, we talk with Sharyn Potter, Executive Director of Research at the Prevention Innovations Research Center (PIRC) about their new app, the uSafeUS® app.

 

Tell us your name, title, and how long you have been with Prevention Innovations Research Center (PIRC).

My name is Sharyn Potter. I am the Co-founder and Executive Director of Practice at the Prevention Innovations Research Center (PIRC): Ending Sexual and Relationship Violence and Stalking at the University of New Hampshire and Professor of Sociology. PIRC was officially founded in 2006 and we develop and evaluate comprehensive prevention and response strategies to end sexual and relationship violence and stalking. We work with colleges and universities, high schools, community organizations, the military, and state and national policy makers to develop and implement our evidenced based strategies.

 

2.       What is the uSafeUS app?

The uSafeUS® app is a sexual assault prevention and response platform for colleges and universities. The heart of uSafeUS is a unique Apple/Android smartphone app for students that provides:

  • Interactive prevention features to help students leave uncomfortable or risky situations.
  • Research-informed, customizable help and guidance for victims and their allies in the event of a sexual assault.

A desktop-version of the app for non-smartphone users can be accessed by visiting app.uSafeUS.org.

 

3.       How did you come up with uSafeUS?


The idea for uSafeUS came up during a conversation with Kathy Kimball, a retired NH State Trooper and NH Sexual Assault Resource Team (SART) Coordinator. Kathy lamented that there were amazing resources for victims of sexual and relationship violence and stalking in New Hampshire but there was no easy way to get the resources into the hands of distressed college students. Kathy suggested that we use the mobile technology that is so pervasive in the lives of students to prevent and respond to sexual assault. This conversation ultimately led to PIRC partnering with representatives from the NH Attorney General’s Office, NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (NHCADSV), law enforcement, and NH college and university faculty, staff and students to create the beta version of uSafeUS—uSafeNH.

 

4.       How does the app work?
 

The uSafeUS app includes two types of features: help and guidance features based on over 15 years of research on helping victims that connect victims and their allies to the information and resources they need, and interactive prevention tools to improve personal safety and raise safety awareness for all students.

 

The informational features include Need Help Now, What Now, and Helpful Answers:

  • Need Help Now helps victims and their allies find local resources in the aftermath of a crime.
  • What Now walks victims and their allies through the various options for reporting and care.
  • Helpful Answers provides educational information from the perspectives of both victims and their allies (e.g., friends, family, faculty/staff, off-campus community members).

The uSafeUS interactive prevention tools were developed with extensive student input:

  • Time to Leave TM creates simulated texts or calls that provide a reason for students to discretely leave uncomfortable social situations.
  • Expect Me TM can be used to notify a trusted contact when a student feels unsafe traveling alone—for example, walking back to a dorm late at night.
  • The Angel Drink allows users to discreetly alert the bartender if help is needed.

The app also contains a “virtual guide,” Bystander Bae, who teaches users how to use the app, and a quick escape button—modeled off a button commonly used on state coalition websites—that allows users to quickly exit the app and redirects users to weather.com.

In addition to the step-by-step information and guidance about what to do in the aftermath of a sexual assault, and the three prevention features to help students avoid potentially risky situations, there is a web app for users who do not have smart phones—app.usafeus.org.

 

5.     How is the uSafeUS app different from some of the other sexual assault-related apps already available?
 

uSafeUS provides a platform for strengthening campus sexual assault prevention and response strategies. uSafeUS is different from other apps because it offers both response and prevention features, and is completely confidential for users. uSafeUS gives campus administrators control over the information available to students, including the campus Title IX office, hospitals and wellness centers, campus and local crisis centers, and public safety officials. A web-based desktop version of the app, with the non-interactive, research-informed content, is available for faculty and staff or students without smartphones. Finally, a fully customizable implementation toolkit is available to help subscribing campuses launch uSafeUS.

 

6.       Who is your target audience for this app?

The target audience for the uSafeUS app is primarily campus communities (e.g., students, faculty, staff, alumni, parent/guardians, and the local business employees that support campus communities). Subscribing institutions have the ability to customize content for their local campus communities to ensure the students have access to all the right resources to support campus response efforts. This customization ability ensures information available on uSafeUS is aligned with campus sexual assault prevention efforts.

 

7.       Is there a cost for the app?

The uSafeUS app is free for everyone to download. However, only institutions that hold a license can customize the content to connect users to local resources and support. The customized app is available for students, faculty, staff, parents/guardians, community members, and alumni.

 

8.       How do you envision the uSafeUS app helping to prevent sexual violence?

The prevention tools on uSafeUS provide students with a discreet way to leave risky situations. The response features offer research-informed, customizable resources for victims and their allies in the event of a sexual assault. From the research, we know that victims who receive trauma-informed assistance in the aftermath of the crime will face fewer health problems and are more likely to complete their education than victims who do not receive assistance. We know that preventing and responding to sexual assault is a collaborative effort between campus administrators, students, researchers, coalitions and their member programs, law enforcement, and community providers. At the Prevention Innovations Research Center, we will continue to evaluate uSafeUS to make updates and changes to ensure uSafeUS is the best possible prevention and response tool for ALL users.

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