I tried to do something about rape. (Built an App) Now I need help.

Trigger Warning: I don’t mean for this to be triggering, but I can see how it might be.

So a few year’s back I read that “400,000 campus rapes a year” statistic somewhere in the feminist internet. Finding it to represent more suffering than I could comprehend, I gave some thought to what I could do. In the end I hired a team to build an iPhone app, RealHelp. The idea was to be able to involve everyone who might possibly care about you in your current situation with the touch of a button. I reasoned that every potential rape or abuse victim has friends and family who would happily intervene if given the chance, and I intended for RealHelp to give them that chance.
  The end result was an app that can stream audio and location to dozens of pre-selected contacts in real time. You can open the app, slide a button, and know that dozens of people who you trust just got a message on their phones telling them how worried they should be and how they should respond. Anyone who tapped through into the current session will see where you are on a map, and will be able to hear what’s happening around you. Anyone who slept through the alert will have a link to the archived web version of the event. You can even choose to post it to all of your friends’ Facebook pages if you want to get loud.
  I know that this isn’t an ironclad guarantee of security, but it does alter the situation dramatically for a would-be rapist. First off, good luck trying to argue that anything was consensual after your potential victim sent an SOS to a few dozen friends. Second, how are you going to disable that alert session when any threats or violence are going to be broadcast to a lot of people who know where you are. Third, a RealHelp Red Alert asks every recipient to listen in and head to the broadcaster’s location immediately, so some friend/s of the would-be victim might just be banging on your door at any moment. Pretty much any would-be rapist with a RealHelp alert triggered on him is going to have to either back down graciously; or risk prison time, physical harm, and an audio recording floating around capable of destroying every career and relationship that he may try to pursue through his foreseeable future. That might not have the hundred percent stopping power of a shotgun shell to the chest, but I feel like it’s still plenty powerful for an iPhone app. Of course it also has the advantage that you can shoot first and ask questions later, since there’s not too much harm done in calling your friends to pick you up because you were creeped out.
  The problem is that I have yet to generate more the the slightest most tepid interest. I kind of thought that this would be one of those “build a better mousetrap” kinds of things. Rape and abuse continue to be very unpopular, but the same channels that get excited over the latest rape oriented fiascos don’t seem to get excited over these kinds of endeavors to fight rape and abuse. I’ve got some competitors in this field who are doing better than me, but none close to the level that it would take to really change things. So I thought I’d ask for suggestions, comments, advice, and what I’ve done wrong? I feel like I’m dropping the ball on this, but I’m not sure what way to go with it.
  Also, I do have an Android version in production, but so far it hasn’t been stable enough for public release.
TLDR: I built an iPhone app to fight rape and abuse that broadcasts audio and location to dozens of preselected friends. Yes, it works and well. So far not much interest. I’m looking for advice.
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3 Comments

  1. Posted January 31, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    Part of the problem might be that, from reading your description of the supposed scenario that would lead up to the app user pressing the button, I can’t help but envision a nameless, faceless stranger stalking a young woman or violently breaking into her house. Sad truth — that’s not the case for a majority of rapes. They’re generally committed by someone whom the victim knows — and trusts — and the crime is committed before the victim has a chance to fight back or scream — or, in many cases, the victim is intimidated into being raped, or coerced.

    (Or asleep/drunk/unconscious — but that’s another issue, altogether)

    In any case, it would still require the would-be victim to maintain constant, never ending vigilance — she’d need to be prepared, in the event of ANYTHING, to push that button. It still puts the onus on the would-be victim, rather than on the would-be rapist, and, thus, you’re probably not going to get much support from a feminist crowd.

    • Posted February 3, 2013 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      “In any case, it would still require the would-be victim to maintain constant, never ending vigilance — she’d need to be prepared, in the event of ANYTHING, to push that button. It still puts the onus on the would-be victim, rather than on the would-be rapist, and, thus, you’re probably not going to get much support from a feminist crowd.”

      True, we should not expect people to use this. But some people do want tools to use against their attacker. They should be able to get them.

  2. Posted February 3, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    A way to make offsite phone recordings would actually be really cool. A couple suggestions:
    1) If someone gets called, call the police not your friends. Police have a good chance of actually stopping the guy/gal. Your friends have a good chance of getting themselves killed.
    2) Make this more general. This isn’t useful just for rape. When all the Occupy Wall Street stuff was happening a way to create off-site recordings would have been a blessing against police corruption. Now if the the video mysteriously disappears… its obvious the police just tampered with it. Really this can be used anytime someone decides to do something wrong.
    3) Make sure the app has a warning that tells people to check state laws about recording people. Some state laws are truly terrible.

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