Most smartphones have personal safety features like location sharing, scheduled safety checks and emergency SOS that you can activate on a date, outings with friends or anytime you feel unsafe.
Still, there are ways to receive added protection.
ABC13 talked to the creators of three different apps about what they offer that could make the difference when it comes to keeping someone out of danger.
The bSafe App features include a timer alarm that lets you define how long you want the app to follow your steps, and if you don’t check in on time, it will alert whoever you’ve set as a guardian to receive notifications.
You can also set up a fake call to get out of a situation. You enter the name you want to appear on the screen and schedule the incoming call for a set time. You can cancel the call before it comes through if you feel it’s no longer needed.
An SOS button will automatically activate audio and video recordings, plus you can livestream.
There is a cost associated with bSafe – $2 a month or $19.99 a year. But a free, 30-day trial is available if you want to try it out.
bSafe’s founder and CEO Rich Larsen says the fee helps go toward paying to store the recordings and streams.
The recording, livestreaming and subsequent storage features were important to Larsen.
His daughter was sexually assaulted in Norway, where they are from. He explained that she suffered from self-harm, depression and attempting suicide.
In that, Larsen’s daughter became the brains behind bSafe because she thought about what could have helped her in that moment or prevented the assault altogether.
“It was hard for me as a father to watch my daughter want to end her life, and after four to five years when she became better, I sat down with her and asked her if she thought about if her incident could have been prevented, and she said, ‘Yes, Dad, I have,'” Larsen said. “If I could have enabled an alarm with my cellphone with my voice, it could have been prevented, or if I could have warned friends and family with my voice that something was about to happen, but the most important thing, she said, if I could have proved it actually happened, I wouldn’t have to struggle as much as I did afterwards.”
His daughter now runs the foundation Never Walk Alone, aimed at preventing violence and abuse.
“I never thought things could turn upside down overnight, and I cannot do anything about that,” Larsen said, adding that the experience has led to the creation of another product, a wristband that can be used to enable an alarm with a siren.
It also has the key function of recording, which he said a lawyer in his native Norway told him is important because the feature may be helpful in trials.
“They struggle because it’s word against word. People struggle because they don’t want to report it,” Larsen said, explaining that above all, he’s most proud of his daughter.
bSafe is available to download for iPhone and Android anywhere in the U.S.
WATCH: In a report that aired on ABC13, see how apps bSafe and uSafeUS could help you get out of a potentially dangerous situation
ABC13 talked to the creators of three apps, bSafe, USafeUS and myPlan, to find out how these tools can help keep you safe in relationships or dating.
uSafeUS focuses on campus safety at colleges, and soon, high schools.
Specifically, the app was designed for sexual assault prevention and response. It’s for students, but it’s also for students’ parents or guardians, as well as faculty and staff who have access to the information.
Campuses can customize the content to provide training and answers about sexual assault, harassment, stalking and bullying.
“We developed it with students, victim advocates, law enforcement, campus administrators, Title IX folks, lawyers,” said Sharon Potter, professor at the University of New Hampshire. Potter is also the Executive Director of Research and the founder of the Prevention Innovations Research Center at the university.
Potter and Kimberly Hobbs, the technical application manager, work together in the center, and explain that their researchers are pioneers in the development of bystander strategies. In other words, it’s not just viewing violence as an issue between two people, but rather a community problem. The goal is to help equip people with answers to questions such as how can people learn to recognize situations and intervene? And how can people who are in problematic situations get themselves out of those situations?
These features help someone discreetly get out of an uncomfortable situation.
“All the students also told us, and all the focus groups said, they don’t want to be that person that’s making a fuss. They just want to kind of recognize an uncomfortable situation and leave,” Potter said.
Time to Leave: It’s a way to discreetly craft a fake text or a call. For example, you’d write yourself a text saying that someone needs to meet you in 10 minutes. It looks like the real thing, as if someone in your contact list is sending you a message, but it doesn’t use their phone number at all.
“The old-fashioned way was you asked a best friend to give you a call in a half an hour, or whatever, just a way to get out of a date that you know you didn’t want to be at any longer,” Potter explained. “So we put this in the hands of the user. They get to control when this call or this text comes through and who it’s from.”
Expect Me: This allows the user to request a friend or a set of friends, up to three, to watch you or to keep track of you while you’re walking home or driving home. The user can configure it and say, “I’m walking, and I’m expected to be home in 15 minutes, or half an hour.”
They would then send a text to whomever they choose saying that they’ve asked that contact to keep track of them and that they intend to be home around a certain time. If the user doesn’t arrive, the contact will receive a reminder to call and check in.
GPS tracking is allowed, but only if the user approves it. The GPS tracker is temporary, meaning it’s only enabled for the duration of the trip. That feature was built based on student feedback.
Angel Drink: This was also developed with students’ feedback in mind.
A focus group of students shared that they’re often showing servers or bartenders drink menus of how they want their drink to be made. So, Angel Drink looks like a recipe, but instead it’s a message the user can show to a bartender or bouncer with specific information such as asking for an Uber or they’d like an escort out of the establishment, again to get out of the situation.
Within the app, extensive resources, including campus, community, and national, exist so users can help themselves or a friend. It covers a range of information of what a survivor or their allies would need, all the way from law enforcement to medical care.
Hobbs and Potter said they’re in the process of updating the app to include information about alcohol misuse, and increasing suicide prevention resources, because sexual violence and suicide are so highly correlated.
A section called “Find Help” contains all of the resources that a student would need on campus, from health services to counseling to reporting options.
The “What Next?” section helps students determine just that: do they want to report it? What should they do when a situation arises?
Another important piece was anonymity. Campus administrators can see how much the app is used, but not by who.
Potters and Hobbs say that the development and rollout is starting to move beyond New Hampshire. They’re now in Florida, Colorado, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania and are looking for opportunities to be in schools in Texas.
myPlan is a free tool created with the help of domestic violence survivors, who were involved in every stage of design and testing. The goal is to help people in those situations determine their next steps and to connect them with resources. So it includes built-in safety features such as a PIN code and ways to hide the content of the app from an abuser.
“myPlan use is completely anonymous, no account set up or identifying information requested,” said Amber Clough, myPlan director and research program manager for gender-based violence projects for Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing.
Before you use myPlan, make sure it’s on a safe device, ideally one an abuser doesn’t have access to. It’s common for abusive people to monitor their partners’ devices. That can mean using a friend’s or family member’s device, a work device or other devices you feel reasonably sure won’t be tracked.
myPlan is available in both English and Spanish and includes pin-code protection and built-in features to help hide the contents of the app. Assessments help tailor the tool to each user.
When you plug in your zip code, it’ll take you to local resources. A direct button allows you to call or text the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
myPlan is aimed at helping domestic violence survivors figure out what to do next, and as Clough explains, put the power in their hands instead of the abusers.
But everyone’s situation is different. That’s why friends and family can use it, too. It’s accessible on the web and as a mobile app.
When you’re done, it’s recommended you delete it.
“It’s not a replacement for a real life advocate. It’s a tech tool to bridge the gap between the vast majority of people who experience abuse who don’t reach out formal services,” Clough told ABC13.
Johns Hopkins is working on a version for teens that’ll be ready this year.
But the university says they want to do more, they just need the funding. They’d never charge for myPlan so to keep it free, they rely on grants. Additional money would mean more customization like expanding language availability and tailoring for people who are immigrants or have a disability.
You can reach the National Domestic Violence hotline 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE. You can also chat with someone live or text “START” to 88788.
The Houston Area Women’s Center also has a 24/7 hotline available by calling 713-528-2121 or chat on their website.
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