This App Could Help Prevent Sexual Assault Cases for College Students

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When awaiting a SNAP van at the back of the Reitz Union late at night, University of Florida senior Preya Patel has her phone on her at all times. Holding her phone gives her reassurance, knowing that she can reach her friends at any moment to call for help.

“I’m definitely aware of situations where I can be snatched,” Patel said.

Patel frequently uses SNAP, which is the Student Nighttime Auxiliary Patrol at UF that drives students around from 6:30 p.m. to 3 a.m. free of charge. She lets her friends know where she is and where she’s going so that there’s a second eye on her, even if they’re not there physically.

There are many students who share the same sentiments as Patel, and UF’s Office of Accessibility and Gender Equity’s latest app, USafeUS, strives to reassure them. Launched on campus in August, it already has over 900 users who have activated the app and used its functions.

USafeUS has features such as being able to fake a call or text from someone on your contact list without ever notifying them, automatically texting up to three friends to follow up with you if you don’t arrive when expected, location sharing with contacts on your phone with user permission, and giving angel drink recipes, which is an SOS disguised as a drink recipe to tell bartenders or servers you’re in need of assistance. The app also contains local resources on sexual violence, relationship violence and stalking, as well as resources with options and care following an incident.

This resource is not limited to just UF students, but to the greater Gainesville community as well. If you have a smart device, you’d be able to access local and national resources at your fingertips from the app.

“We know that people need access to this type of information,” said Jessica Baker, the engagement and prevention coordinator at UF’s Office of Accessibility and Gender Equity, an office committed to ensuring equal access to resources and promoting diversity and inclusion for all.

“It’s very, very pertinent that people who have experienced sexual violence get access to resources as soon as possible. If we can put it on people’s phones, that’s even better. The only requirement to download the app and get its resources is to have a phone.”

Jessica Baker started her position at UF’s Office of Accessibility and Gender Equity at the outset of the pandemic and has since worked to provide more resources to students and the
community. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Baker)

When Baker began her position at the start of the pandemic, she spent her first six months training and researching from national experts on evidence-based models for preventing gender-based violence, discrimination and harassment in college campuses.

She came across the Prevention Innovations Research Center from the University of New Hampshire, which is dedicated to ending sexual and relationship violence and stalking through vigorous research. They received a grant in 2016 to create the USafeUS app, which is built on a decade of prevention research from the center.

Toward the end of 2020, Baker reached out to collaborate with the developers of the app and added resources that could be used for UF students and Gainesville residents.

According to the UF Police Department’s 2021 annual security report, there was a large jump in sexual harassment and sexual violence cases in 2019, with a small decrease in 2020.

With the 2019 statistics in mind, UF conducted a campus-wide survey in 2019 to gauge students’ experiences and perspectives on sexual assault and misconduct on campus. The study found that 45% of UF students have experienced at least one type of harassment.

As a response, the university developed more campus resources and had hired Baker, who is also involved with the Coalition Against Sexual Violence in Gainesville and oversees the Gender Equity Student Advisory Board — a 17-student panel that focuses on policy and prevention education efforts across UF campus.

Both Baker and the Gender Equity Student Advisory Board are still continuing to improve USafeUS, alongside the app’s developers, to make the best experience possible for users.

“If you have a friend, a family member or a child — you’d know your child is going to be well-equipped with the really helpful information. There’s local resources, community resources and national resources to support folks with all of this to make better decisions and to keep themselves safe,” Baker said.

About Jacquelyn Deo

Jacquelyn is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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