It Happens Here launch new sexual assault app

Oxford University students have written and launched a new mobile application in support of survivors of sexual assault.

The free app, which is called First Response and is available for both Android and Apple users, is designed to be used by both survivors and friends of survivors at Oxford. According to its description on the Google Play store, it offers “information about optional ways to respond, essential knowledge about support resources, critical contact details, and answers to frequently asked questions”. The app also contains a feature whereby users can tap a heart icon to display a message of encouragement from one of the app creators. First Response was created through a collaboration between the Oxford Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre (OSARCC), OUSU’s It Happens Here campaign, Code4Rights, and a group of over 30 students.

Ellie Bennett, Volunteer and Outreach Co-Ordinator at OSARCC, an Oxford-based organisation of women working to help survivors, commented: “[We are] delighted to have worked on the production of the First Response app. We know that many survivors of sexual violence find it hard to know what their options might be, or where they can get support. Providing a source of high-quality information about some of these issues is a great step forward for the Oxford community. We believe it’s important that all survivors are empowered to make their own decisions about what option or support is appropriate for them, and hope that the app will enable both survivors, and their supporters, to feel better-informed to make these decisions.”

Eden Tanner is Co-Chair of Operations at It Happens Here. The awareness campaign seeks to make Oxford a safe place for all people by engaging with the University and the community. Tanner told this paper: “I’m thrilled to have been a part of the development of such a critical piece of technology. Empowering survivors with all of the information about their choices is a vital first step to ensuring the help they may seek is available to them. I hope to see the app downloaded far and wide so that no member of our community is without this information in their time of need.”

The app was written over the course of ten months by a team of female students. As the team had little or no previous experience in coding, they were trained during the production period by the organisation Code4Rights. Code4Rights is a technology education start-up founded by former Rhodes Scholar Joy Buolamwini, who states that its “mission is to show compassion through computation”. The business offers courses and workshops to help people create meaningful technology for their respective communities and promote rights around the world.

Highlighting the pioneering nature of the project, Buolamwini says: “We are thrilled to share the First Response Oxford app with the Oxford community as the first app to address sexual violence in the area.  While outside of Oxford there are apps that address sexual violence, to our knowledge we are the first to enable community members to learn how to code and then contribute to pages that compose the app.” She also adds: “Women are over-represented as survivors of sexual violence and under-represented as creators of technology.”

Buolamwini’s previous ventures include creating an Android-based solution to help eliminate Trachoma in Ethiopia, and founding the Zamrize initiative to empower Zambian youth to become creators of technology. She is currently Graduate Research Assistant at the MIT Media Lab, and has previously held the Rhodes, Fulbright, Google Anita Borg, Astronaut and Stamps scholarships.

First Response was funded with the help of the Oxford IT Innovation Challenges, a fund to support small digital start-ups expected to benefit the University community. As a part of the University’s IT Capital Plan for investing in University-wide IT infrastructure, they aim to improve the experiences of staff and students at Oxford by selecting innovative digital projects to fund. This year’s IT Innovation Challenge, allowing students to receive funding of up to £15k towards a project improving students’ experience, runs until November 14th.

Stuart Lee, Deputy CIO of the University’s IT Services, told The Oxford Student: “We are thrilled
to see the successful launch of the First Response App. It is clear that this will provide
important support to many, and it is great to see that this was developed by students as
a result of the IT Innovation Challenges.”

Oxford has been struggling with a recent spate of incidences of sexual violence coming to into public attention. After prominent activist Annie Teriba removed herself from student politics earlier this term upon admission of non-consensual sexual acts, a 24-year-old woman was sexually assaulted after leaving the nightclub Plush last weekend. NUS statistics show that although nearly one in five students report suffering sexual harassment in their first week of term, an alarming 61 per cent are unaware of the procedures to report it. The OxStu hopes First Response will prove to be a valuable step towards changing this landscape.

Image: First Response