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Apps Aim to Prevent Sexual Assault, Rape on Campus

A slew of new apps aim to prevent assault and rape on college campuses, under the assumption that students are never too far from their smartphones.

Two are in development at the Integrated Innovation Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. One, NightOwl, is actually a party-planning app that lets students upload guest lists, photos and a playlist, while also keeping tabs on suspicious activity.

It works with a flexible, smart wristband that the party host wears, and that bracelet lights up when someone at the party sends an alert. The message can be about a neighbor complaint, a police officer who showed up or a potential sexual assault.

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"We've all been at an event or at a party and seen something that didn't quite sit right with us, but we didn't have the tool to be able to respond to that," said Kosa Goucher-Lambert, a Ph.D. student in engineering who worked on the app. "That's the gap we wanted to address."

Students can ping the host to point out a problem, and the data all disappears when the party is over.

Another app in the works is called SPOT a Problem, which also aims to get bystanders who see potential sexual assaults involved. That one works by alerting friends of a partygoer who might be in danger, so they know to check on that person.

Donna Sturgess, the Integrated Innovation Institute's executive in residence, worked on the app concepts with the students, and says she hopes they'll be built and available for the public to download within the next year.

As many as 1 in 5 female college students are assaulted, the White House has said, but many organizations say the figure is higher.

"This is not a social problem that we're going to sit around and wait for other people to fix," Sturgess said.

But many apps that aim to reduce sexual assault are already available to students. Some colleges have partnerships with one called LiveSafe, which lets students send photos or text messages to the nearest police station if they see something shady. It also gives students an easy way to tell friends where they are, using location data, and tracks crimes on campus.

Loyola University in Chicago released the app I'm Here For You last fall. It provides students information about on-campus resources as well as city services to report dating violence, stalking and assault.

And the app Circle of 6, which emerged from a White House challenge, is also popular among schools. It uses GPS to pin down users' location and alerts a user's inner circle if there's trouble. With just a couple of taps, users can send a text message like, "Come and get me. I need help getting home safely" to a friend, along with their location data.

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