App challenge winners help fight against dating violence, abuse

By Molly Merrill
03:16 PM
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Two mobile phone applications, Circle of 6 and On Watch, were chosen as winners of the government's Apps Against Abuse Technology Challenge on Tuesday.

The competition, which was launched in July 2011 by Vice President Joe Biden and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, called on software innovators to harness the power of mobile technology to help prevent dating violence and abuse by keeping young adults connected to trusted friends and providing easy access to resources for help including local police and abuse hotlines.

Officials said Circle of 6 and On Watch employ innovative uses of text, email and social media, and offer users quick and easy access to emergency assistance and dating violence and abuse resources.

“The Apps Against Abuse challenge exemplifies how innovation and collaboration can result in the creation of new tools to help Americans stay healthy and safe, and in this case to help avoid violence and assault,” said HHS Chief Technology Officer Todd Park.

“We wish to celebrate all of the participants as they are part of a growing movement that is fueled by an entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to tackle our nation’s challenges – including campus violence,” added U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra. “They give me great hope that we will invent our way towards a safer society.”

Circle of 6 and On Watch were selected from a pool of more than 30 entries, and are expected to be available for free public download beginning in early 2012.

HHS said it will highlight these applications on www.hhs.gov/open, as soon as they become available and will work with other federal agencies to help spread the word about their availability.

“With these applications, a personal electronic device becomes a powerful tool to help young women and men protect themselves, and their friends, from becoming victims of violence,” said Vice President Biden, who encouraged college and university leaders to make students on their campuses aware of the applications when they become available for download. “Thanks to the creativity and vision of these developers, young men and women now have a new line of defense against violence.”

Biden applauded the winning applications earlier on Tuesday during a conference call with hundreds of college and university officials to discuss ongoing efforts to help better prevent and respond to dating violence and assault on campuses across the country.

“These winning applications will help young Americans become more empowered to prevent dating violence and sexual assault,” said Secretary Sebelius. “Whether quickly checking in with your friends or sending critical information to your support networks, these innovative tools have the potential to protect and save lives.”

How the apps work

  • Circle of 6 makes it quick and easy to reach your circle of supporters and let them know where you are and what you need. It takes two touches to get help. The app uses text messaging to contact your circle, uses GPS to locate you when needed, connects to reputable domestic violence organizations and asks contacts to take a pledge on Facebook to stop violence before it happens. 
  • On Watch enables you transmit critical information by phone, email, text and social media to your support network. You can check in with friends, call 911 or campus police with two touches of a button, set countdown timers that send messages and GPS information automatically if events or activities don’t go according to plan, and connect to sexual assault, dating violence and domestic abuse hotlines.