UNH App Seeks to Connect Students With Sexual Assault Support Resources

Jun 7, 2016

The University of New Hampshire is working on a new app that's designed to help survivors of sexual assault, set to launch in the fall. Called “uSafeNH,” the app will provides information on local crisis centers, hospitals, police and other resources.

All Things Considered Host Peter Biello spoke with project director Sharyn Potter, an associate professor of sociology and the co-director of the Prevention Innovations Research Center at UNH, about the origins of the app and her hope that it might eventually be used at campuses beyond New Hampshire.

How does the app help survivors of sexual assault?

So, just to give you a little bit of background: In March 2015, a former state trooper came up to me at a meeting and said, “I really wish there was a way to bring all of the resources that we have in New Hampshire to really support survivors.”

In New Hampshire we are really lucky — there are a lot of resources when someone has been a victim of sexual assault, as well as for their friends and family. But you can just imagine a 20-year-old, distressed young woman who has just been raped, and think, “How do we get these resources to her so she can use them?”

When the former state trooper said this to me, I said, “Let’s do this.” And we pulled together a team of different stakeholders from around the state to bring this project together.

At what point in the aftermath of a sexual assault would someone use this app?

Immediately afterwards. We know that 95 percent of college students, when they are a victim of a sexual assault, do not immediately call the police. They most likely will tell a friend.

What the friend can do, is — [the app] will be geospatially worked together, so that if you are in Durham, New Hampshire, you will get the specific resources that are in the vicinity of the UNH campus. There will be things like the hospital where you can get a sexual assault nurse exam, as well as resources for the individual campuses, resources for the hospitals and the police. So everything will be geographically configured.

You mentioned a situation in which a victim would tell a friend, but for the most part this system is designed for those who elect to get the help.

When you log onto the app, the first thing it’s going to say is: “Do you need this for yourself or do you need this for someone else?” And under the “Someone Else” category, there are friends, family, faculty, staff, community business owners, as well as prospective students.

So depending on how you click on the app, you’ll get the most appropriate information. So, if you are a friend, it’ll be things that you can say and do to help your friend.

This app isn’t available yet — it’s scheduled to be released in the fall. One of the features in this app is that there are questions and answers and you can click on the question you want to see the answer to. And one of those questions is, “What is consent?” How is this app defining consent?

This app is just using “consent” in a very general way. I know that both New York and California have laws about consent; New Hampshire doesn’t have a law about consent. But the way that this app is defining consent is whether or not the person has indicated that they have agreed to each specific act.

Does this app do anything in the way of preventing sexual assault?

In terms of the app, we have all sorts of different suggestions that people can do to prevent a sexual assault. Like if they see a situation that doesn’t look right, we’ll have different ways that people can intervene. But really, this app is meant to be — how do we give all the resources in the state to that young person who is distressed, or to the friend or family that wants to help the young person?

It’s designed for all New Hampshire colleges; what are your plans for broader distribution of the app?

We were lucky enough to win funds from the Entrepreneurs Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, and that is going to allow us to distribute the app on the 23 campuses in New Hampshire. And what we hope to do is license it to the other states, so they can buy it for their campuses. And the revenue that comes back will continue to support students to build and improve the apps.