Why I Created an Anti-Rape Mobile App in India
When I first decided to tell the story of my own sexual assault through making and bringing my film The Line to college campuses—and engage viewers in a discussion on consent, and what qualifies “rape” and “assault,” I was nervous that I would be judged for being so open and blamed for what had happened to me. However, the result has been overwhelmingly positive—after screenings and discussions, many students have come up to me to share their personal stories, including what “the line” means to them as an idea, giving me a new lens into rape culture that I could have never previously imagined.
So, when a colleague pinged me on Twitter to tell me about Vice President Joe Biden’s #1is2Many #AppsAgainstAbuse challenge, I jumped at the opportunity. I teamed up with engineer Christine Corbett Moran, designer and creative director Thomas Cabus, and Deb Levine of non-profit YTH to make the Circle of 6 app. Circle of 6 is an iPhone and Android app that lets the user program 6 friends into their circle with pre-programmed SMS messages on the ready, such as, “Call me, I need an interruption” or “Come pick me up, I’m in trouble.” In two easy taps, the user can alert their “circle” of their whereabouts through GPS location technology and needs through the app and get the help that they need.
Circle of 6 ended up being one of two winners of the #AppsAgainstAbuse challenge. Since its launch in March 2012, it has been downloaded more than 60,000 times in 27 different countries.
At first, we intended the app to be used by a specific demographic—college-aged women in the United States. After all, this was my specific background. However, in December when a young woman in New Delhi, India was brutally gang-raped and beaten to death while coming home from a night out at the movies, we were motivated to act. Even though she was on the other side of the world, in another country with a different culture, her story still felt so familiar—a young woman in an urban city, independent and yet vulnerable at the same time. We felt that we had to do something to show our support and solidarity.
Christine, Thomas and I hopped on a Google+ Hangout to discuss what we could do about this. In tandem, as awareness of rape and mobile tools to fight it started hitting the Indian press, our download numbers spiked by 1000 percent in India.
We knew it wouldn’t be easy to bring our anti-rape mobile app to India—after all, the original audience for the app was supposed to be American college students. Even though the story of a young woman being assaulted while coming home from a night out is familiar to many of us, the cultural circumstances and technological platforms are undeniably different in India.
After a meeting with organizers of the SayNO Unite anti-violence initiative of the UN, we were reminded of the complex reality that India has 28 states, 7 territories and 152 different languages and dialects spoken throughout the nation. How could we help the most people? Where does the need for sexual violence protection and highest demographic of smart phone users overlap the most? How could we be inclusive to people who didn’t necessarily fall into this bracket?
Eventually, we decided to specialize the app to New Delhi—this hit home as the site of the first assault, and the catalyst of the protests that rocked the nation. We launched in early April to mark Sexual Assault Awareness month, and now, we are proud to announce that India has the second highest number of downloads of Circle of 6, only after the United States. We have plans to adapt for Mexico in the works, and hope to continue to give smart phone users the opportunity to build circles of care and accountability in their communities in efforts to prevent violence.