UNH launches new app designed to prevent campus sex assaults

DURHAM — Law enforcement and education experts will be at the University of New Hampshire campus on Friday to launch a smartphone app designed to prevent campus sexual assaults and to support victims.

Attorney General Gordon MacDonald will announce the national launch of the “uSafeUS”app, which was developed with help from experts at UNH. A briefing will be held in Holloway Commons’ Bellamy Room at 1:30 p.m.

The university and the Attorney General’s Office worked together last year to deploy uSafeNH, the previous version of the app, on 21 college campuses in New Hampshire. UNH faculty and students continued working on the app and it’s now ready for a national launch.

The app provides interactive features to prevent assaults, such as the ability to program a smartphone to alert a friend if it takes longer than expected to arrive at a destination. It can also simulate an important call or text a student can use to get out of uncomfortable situations.

And there’s a feature to help someone get out of an uncomfortable situation at a bar: A mobile recipe book with a secret “angel drink” recipe to alert a bartender that the individual needs help. The recipe is surrounded by real drink recipes to avoid suspicion.

“I am in an uncomfortable situation and need help,” the recipe reads. “Could you please assist me in leaving inconspicuously?”

Jane Stapleton is executive director of practice at the Prevention Innovations Research Center at UNH. She said the app was developed with input from students across New Hampshire, as well as with partner organizations, including the AG’s office of victim/witness assistance, and the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

“New Hampshire is a small state and one of the benefits of having a small state is there’s a lot of collaboration that happens,” she said.

After the initial version was sent out to students on campuses around the state, the UNH center held an “idea-a-thon” to gather ideas from college students and built the second generation app from that, Stapleton said. “I think one of the strengths of UsafeUS is it’s been informed by our target audience,” she said.

She said the idea for the “angel drink” came from England, where it serves as code for asking a bartender for help.

Stapleton said the app’s creators also hope that colleges and universities will use it as a platform to disseminate prevention resources.

In a news release announcing the launch of the new app, the AG’s Office said the start of the new school year is “an optimal time” for students, their families and faculty members to become familiar with the uSafeUS app “so that all students on New Hampshire college and university campuses can have the necessary tools and information to combat and address sexual assault.”

The new effort also comes at a time when the federal government is coming under criticism by some advocates for proposing to rework policies on handling campus sexual assaults.

In addition to MacDonald, UNH experts will participate in Friday’s launch, including Dr. Sharyn Potter, a professor of sociology who is executive director of research at the Prevention Innovations Research Center; and Rebecca Ludecke, the uSafeUS project manager.

The uSafeUS app is launching nationally this week.

For more information: https://usafeus.org

Saturday, January 18, 2020