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Howard U To Test 'Social Safety' App

Washington, D.C.'s Howard University will be beta testing a new mobile app still in development that's intended to provide "social safety," on college campuses. That app, PRZ (for Personal Red Zone), features an emergency button that alerts public safety people during an emergency and allows users to create networks of friends who will watch out for their safety.

According to Lisa Jones Johnson, CEO of SafeTComm, the company developing PRZ, social safety is the notion that safety must become a social activity. "We must connect around our safety in groups so that essentially we each become 'my brother's keeper.'" As she explained, PRZ is intended to encourage people to "intervene as active bystanders to prevent ongoing or potential crimes." The app allows the user to intervene anonymously in a potential or ongoing incident by sending a message through the app to the person creating the incident. It also lets students create their own social safety networks of friends to whom they can communicate as a group.

The university already uses several other apps for emergency situations. The Howard Guardian Service allows members of the school community who are walking from one location to another to set timers on their phones that will be monitored by police. If the timer expires or a panic button is pushed, police can hunt down the individual through GPS. The app Eyewitness lets a user text a crime tip to the police. Howard U will be testing the app among students campus wide for a year.

The latest app is intended as a solution that specifically addresses sexual assault, dating and domestic violence and stalking, areas of increasing concern at American universities and colleges.

In July United States Senator Claire McCaskill (MO) released the results of a national survey on campus sexual assaults, which exposed gaps in how schools handle the reporting and investigations of sexual violence. For example, just under half of institutions in the national survey don't provide a hotline to victims of these crimes and six out of 10 provide no way to report sexual assaults online. Eight percent of schools don't allow confidential reporting. Offering these types of services "have been shown to improve reporting of sexual violence on college campuses," the report's authors wrote. They quoted a report by the Department of Justice, which found that less than five percent of rape victims attending college report their attack to law enforcement.

California Governor Jerry Brown is deciding whether or not to sign a recent State Senate bill passed in that state that defines sexual consent between people as an "affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity." The so-named "Yes-Means-Yes" bill would require the governing boards of every public college and university in California to adopt policies concerning sexual assault and related crimes to include that "affirmative consent standard" in order to continue receiving state funding.

"With statistics such as one in five women being sexually assaulted during their four years in college, it is imperative that safety programs such as Howard's be created and implemented in educational institutions across the U.S.," said Jones Johnson.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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