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Samah Pirzada: Circle of 6 safety app useful despite rough edges

By Samah Pirzada

Nov. 7, 2014 12:00 a.m.

The Undergraduate Students Association Council Internal Vice President’s office has accomplished a feat in moving a safety application called Circle of 6 to a UCLA-specific app development and marketing development stage.

The app could make a huge difference for students in terms of sexual assault prevention and post-assault assistance.

To be clear, the app is not a solution to sexual assault. It will not prevent assault in every scenario, and it will not ensure every victim gets the help he or she needs. It does, however, have the potential to help some students escape dangerous situations or deal with an assault if one occurs – and if the app can help even one person, it is worth all the effort that student government offices have put into it.

If students find themselves in a threatening situation, they can use the Circle of 6 app to contact six people of their choosing by simply linking six of their closest contacts with the app. The app provides services useful to students during emergency situations, such as the ability to share their location and ask for someone to pick them up, request for someone from their “circle” to call their phone to provide an interruption or ask for relationship advice.

In the edition that will be developed for UCLA, the application will also provide users connections to various local resources, such as hotlines specific to UCLA’s campus that can provide physical and emotional assistance. In the event that someone is assaulted, having all of UCLA’s relevant resources at the click of a button can make reaching out for help a little bit easier.

This application could help save countless students from dangerous situations by providing them with a safe but discreet way to contact people they trust. In many sexual assault cases, if the perpetrator is aware the victim is reaching out for help, the victim can be at greater risk for violence. To alleviate this situation, all of the options are displayed in icon form instead of text. A huge benefit of the app is that it sends pre-typed messages to six people with the click of one button, so you spend less time sending the message, but increase the chances of a response.

As I mentioned above, however, the Circle of 6 application is not without flaws. Chrissy Keenan, a third-year human biology and society student and co-director of the Bruin Consent Coalition, said an assaulter is often someone close enough to the victim where he or she could potentially be one of the six friends the student chooses to add to the application. In cases where survivors know their assaulter, the app often won’t serve its purpose, as survivors might not recognize they’re in danger until it’s too late. While this is a huge flaw in the app, it does not make the app useless. Circle of 6 could still help prevent some assaults from occurring, and for those students, the investment is worth it.

Savannah Badalich, USAC Student Wellness commissioner, said she agrees that we should always be critical about any programs put forward to students and make sure the application turns out to be useful. But just because it might not be an effective tool in one scenario does not mean it won’t be effective in others.

“If we stayed hung up on the ‘what-ifs,’ change would never happen,” Badalich said.

She stressed that if 1,000 students downloaded the app, and it helped 10 people prevent a sexual assault or connected them with resources after an assault, the app was worth creating.

The application has been in the works for nearly a year, after funding issues stalled its initial progress last year. But the application is well worth the wait given the immense amount of potential it has in making the campus a safer place.

Avinoam Baral, USAC internal vice president, took over the project from Avi Oved’s office last year. Baral made this app a priority because he said he wants to change the way we deliver resources to students to match the increase in popularity of cellular devices.

A mobile app can be used much more easily and frequently than a website, the current form of access to many resources. Sexual assault resources can be available to anyone online, but not yet in one place. If all of those resources are available at the click of a button on their phone, students are much more likely to access that information. Baral’s office plans to inform incoming students about the application during New Student Orientation next school year, which means many first-year and transfer students will come to UCLA with one more tool to help them deal with sexual assault.

If this app can help even one person, it has made UCLA a safer place. While the application may not be perfect, it is still a step in the right direction toward creating a safer campus.

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Samah Pirzada
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