Five Questions for Nancy Schwartzman about a Smartphone App to alert your friends when you feel at risk
Nancy Schwartzman, film-maker, activist, and one of the creators of Circle of 6, an app against sexual assault Photo credit: Alan Deutsche
Millions of women and girls worldwide face sexual harassment on a daily basis – on the streets, in public transportations, at work or in schools. An innovative preventive tool, Circle of 6 (www.circleof6app.com) is a free smartphone application against sexual assault that won the White House “Apps Against Abuse” challenge in 2011. It is being used in 26 countries, mobilizing - young people who have access to technology. The app was recently launched in New Delhi, India, in English and Hindi, in partnership with local organizations. Say NO – UNiTE spoke to Nancy Schwartzman, film-maker, activist, and one of the creators of Circle of 6, about the initiative and how the app can make a difference by preventing violence.
What is Circle of 6 and how does it work? Why six friends? Wouldn’t one or two people suffice?
With only two taps, iOS and Android app Circle of 6 connects users threatened with possible sexual assault and abuse to a network of six trusted friends using GPS technology, texting, anti-violence resources, and a commitment to support each other.
Designed for college students, it’s fast, easy-to-use and private. It’s the mobile way to look out for your friends, on campus, on public transportation or when you’re out for the night. There is even a built-in speed dial to reach a rape or sexual assault hotline.
Need help getting home? With two touches, you can easily pinpoint your location and ask your circle to come and get you. Need an interruption? You can ask your circle to call. Icons represent actions, so that no one can tell what you’re up to.
The number "six" is a number we chose because it was small enough to remain intimate, but big enough so that hopefully at least one person of the six would be available in an emergency. The user can customize, and only add two or three people to their circle, but we wanted to make sure that there were enough people to choose from, just in case.
You can download and watch the demo video here: www.circleof6app.com.
How did you come up with the idea of creating the Circle of 6?
The White House launched the #1is2many campaign to address rape and sexual assault for teens and young adults to challenge advocates and engineers to develop an App aimed at college students to prevent sexual assault and dating violence.
We were inspired to rise to the challenge because the time was right and the rape rate on college campuses had not changed in years – according to the United States Department of Justice, more than 1 in 5 students in the country’s colleges are raped. In 2008, I toured the country with my film "The Line," a film that examines my own personal story of sexual violence, today’s “rape culture” and the line of consent. Since then, I've heard stories about rape, sexual assault, coercion and abuse from hundreds of students nationally. The same scenarios kept popping up - losing track of friends, having to make hard decisions late at night about how to get home, wishing someone would interrupt an awkward and potentially coercive scenario, and watching a friend enter a potentially dangerous relationship. We designed the app to address the needs of students, keeping in mind that in college your friends are your family, and that peer-to-peer support is key for support and culture-change.
In addition, knowing that 90 per cent of young people value texting as a way to strengthen a friendship and over 70 per cent of college students have smart phones, we were hopeful that the app would simply become part of a student's life – the mobile equivalent of the buddy system.
What examples can you give us from your users/members of how this application really works to keep girls and women safe? (this is where you can give us some quotes from the surveys/testimonials you’ve collected)
We've heard from users many different and exciting ways that Circle of 6 is being used.
“Circle of 6 has changed my thinking - it applies technology to the fight to end sexual assault in a respectful way! Love it! Very cool!” said Erin, a user and reviewer.
“[With Circle of 6] I never walk alone...” shared Alexandra, a student from Duke University.
“This App is for everyone – not just for women. We care about our friends and we all benefit from a safe campus and community,” said Sachhi, founder of Masculinity U, a global movement to rethink the concept of masculinity.
I've heard from parents using it with their teens in cases of drunk driving, senior citizens using it with their loved ones, military sexual assault units are telling their soldiers to download, as well as the Military academies like West Point are encouraging students to use it.
What's also exciting is that men are becoming part of their friend’s circles. The app gives them an opportunity to step in, to be accountable to friends who may be in vulnerable situations and to help disrupt the culture of violence.
What’s next for Circle of 6?
The first version of Circle of 6 is already being used in 26 countries by 55,000 people all over the world. Our team has always wanted to respond to both the domestic need and the international one. On 2 April, we launched our first localization in New Delhi, India. After the devastating gang-rape and murder in December we saw our download numbers increase by 1000 per cent in India where we had launched earlier. We were inspired to act quickly and adapt Circle of 6 to serve users in India, so we translated it into both English and Hindi and made the hotlines and resources localized for New Delhi.
We have plans underway to localize for Mexico, and interest from around the globe. Domestically, we are excited about new possibilities for a second version to serve college students, and to expand our production of educational materials and videos.
What do you think is needed to stop sexual violence and harassment against women and girls? What would you do if you were in charge of making policies in your country?
So many things! The primary thing that every nation, every home and every school needs is curricula designed to teach boys and men not to rape or abuse, to examine and challenge their own behaviour, and to call out rape culture and intervene when they see it.
In addition to engaging men, we need to call on our film-makers to stop glamourizing and normalizing rape. Harassment and violence and non-consent are not desirable masculine behaviours. They shouldn't be romanticized or idealized in film, TV, advertising and music videos.
Sexual education in schools that teaches respect for boundaries and emotional well-being is crucial, too. In the Unites States of America, where I’m from, I'm glad to see new provisions under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a landmark legislation that seeks to improve criminal justice response and community-based response to violence against women, that insist on implementing robust consent-based anti-violence programming in colleges. But I'd insist that these programmes be mandatory for all college athletes, too. If I was in charge of making policies, I'd mandate that all public schools have sexual education that’s de-stigmatized, feminist and consent-based, from elementary through high school.
I could go on and on… So much work to do!