This year began with the horrifying story of a young high-school aged woman who was raped by two football players at a party in Steubenville, Ohio — and proven through graphic video recordings of the entire event, uncovered by Anonymous. Even though there was evidence and witnesses to the attack, the community still was reluctant to prosecute the two young men. After all, they were high school football players. What would this say about the community? Although eventually there was accountability — and both attackers are now serving time in a Juvenile Detention Facility — the rape culture that caused this crime is alive and well.
It is most important to remember is that what happened in Steubenville is not an isolated incident. It is simply one of many rape cases that happened to garner the most media attention.
In fact, most rapes are like this. Although they might not be filmed, and later uncovered by anonymous causing national media attention, 85% of all rapes happen where the victim already knows the attacker. College party-type settings — where drinking and “hooking up” are part of the culture — are particularly prone to sexual assaults; significant percentage of rapes, at least one of the parties was under the influence of alcohol.
In the United States alone, 1 in 4 college-aged women will be sexually assaulted by the time they graduate. We know why it happens, but how can it be prevented?
It is difficult to gain accountability for rape in the first place, and even more difficult in the instance of an acquaintance rape, particularly when alcohol and partying are involved or the victim has previously had consensual sex with her attacker. Instead of being trusted with her story and cared for, all too often young women are blamed for having been drinking alcohol, dressed in a certain way or being flirtatious. Normal social behavior is cited as the cause of rape, rather than the abnormal grotesque rape culture that causes it.
We built Circle of 6 App with these college-aged women in mind; young and independent, out having a good time yet not invincible. Since its launch, Circle of 6 has been downloaded more than 60,000 times in 27 different countries worldwide.
To use the app, first, you program your “circle” — these are five close and reliable friends who live nearby who will be alerted in the case of an emergency. With yourself included, this is your “Circle of 6.”
Second, there are three pre-programmed messages. The first is the “bad date” button; this one says, “Call me, I need an interruption.” The second is for more serious situations, where the user may need to be picked up. This one uses GPS technology to send an exact location to your circle. The third is programmed with hotlines for sexual abuse and for advice on healthy relationships.
In two simple clicks, you can alert your circle as to what you need and, in case you need to be picked up, a GPS location device will let them know where you are. The idea is that at least one of your “Circle of 6” will be able to either call or come to the rescue, thus preventing an uncomfortable situation or assault before it happens.
In this way, Circle of 6 is an empowering tool for young women to feel in control of a situation. It is not meant to be a substitute for formal justice; rather, it is programmed with the realities of typical sexual assault scenarios in mind and tools to get help, hopefully preventing the assault rather than seeking accountability for it.