By GAVIN LAPAILLE
Gold Standard Staff Writer
Communities all across the world have a new weapon to help in the fight against sexual assault, thanks to Circle of 6, a mobile application designed to help young people out of situations that may be dangerous.
Circle of 6 connects users to six others, giving easy access to trusted individuals in moments of crisis. The app is designed so that users can send a text to everyone in their circle in a quick and easy fashion.
The app is the brainchild of Nancy Schwartzman, CEO of Tech 4 Good and a gender-based violence prevention expert. The team at Tech 4 Good developed Circle of 6 in the “Apps Against Abuse” challenge that’s jointly put on by the Office of the Vice President, the Department of Health and Human Services and the White House Office of Science and Technology. The app received praise from Vice President Joe Biden, and hit the shelves in 2012 on Apple and Android devices. It has been downloaded by nearly 200,000 people in 32 countries.
Schwartzman saw a need for Circle of 6 when touring college campuses to promote a film she made based on her own experience with sexual assault.
“I was a film maker, not a developer, but it was an issue and population I was very familiar with,” Schwartzman said. “It’s another stepping stone onto a new platform to reduce the problem.”
The app is simple in its design and functionality, allowing users to text their “circle” one of three programmed messages and access emergency personnel by clicking on the corresponding icon. A car icon sends an exact GPS location to their circle, while a phone icon requests a phone call to provide an interruption. A chat icon informs the members of the user’s circle they are looking for healthy tips on how to improve their relationships, while a final icon, a yellow triangle with an exclamation point inside it, gives the user quick access to national hotlines on sexual abuse and domestic violence, and a local number that is customizable.
Linking users to six people in- stead of other numbers was chosen for a variety of reasons, both scien- tifically and ascetically. Schwartz-man said six is symmetrically pleasing, and also gives users several potential helpers at their fingertips while still being an intimate circle. A bigger number may cause users to struggle to fill every spot with a trustworthy person, while smaller circles may not accomplish the intended goal.
Schwartzman said the main idea for Circle of 6 is to be both easy and helpful in efficient manners.
“It’s really easy,” Schwartzman said. “You don’t have to fumble around and look for numbers or text anything out. If you’ve been drinking or you’re disorientated, you can reach six people very quickly.”
While initially targeted toward college students, the app is used by a variety of different people of all ages and demographics. Schwartzman recently spoke to Soldiers at Fort Meade, Md., who said they find Circle of 6 most useful upon first arriving on a new installation when they are still getting comfortable in their new environment.
Schwartzman said Circle of 6 isn’t meant to scare people and heighten fears, but rather to provide support in a time of crisis. Something Schwartzman said she’s proud of is the confidence the app gives users just by having it on their phones.
“People who are afraid because they have experienced violence, it’s reassurance to them,” Schwartzman said. “That’s not the kind of thing we can measure. The whole peace of mind aspect has been really important. That’s the stuff that makes people feel better every day.”
Circle of 6 should see an update in December or January, and Schwartzman is working on creating partnerships with colleges and small towns for the app to be tailor made in specific communities. Schwartzman said she sees usage of Circle of 6 on the rise in the future.
“It really has a lot of resonance,” Schwartzman said. “What is really cool about it is people instantly understood it’s something you might need. It’s about having people you trust readily available.”