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App created for assault victims - The Pitt News

The Pitt News

App created for assault victims

By Kathleen Fennell / Staff Writer

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Connecting to a domestic violence hotline is the single greatest factor in reducing domestic violence injuries, reassaults and homicides. 

The Women’s Center and Shelter (WC&S) of Greater Pittsburgh, founded in 1974, had these facts in mind when it created RUSafe, a smartphone app that helps users identify potentially dangerous situations and contact a domestic violence hotline in their area. The Pittsburgh app debuted in the Apple and Android app stores in local areas in November 2013 and will be available nationwide Nov. 1.

Users in immediate peril can call 911 through the app to receive emergency assistance. To receive help, users answer a series of questions. The app uses the answers to calculate a response and then enables them to reach out to their local domestic violence hotline for assistance if they are at risk. 

The app asks users questions including “Does your partner ever put his hands around your neck in anger to scare you?” and “Does your partner abuse alcohol or drugs?” to assess danger. 

WC&S President and CEO Shirl Regan said the shelter has used the questionnaire, developed by Jacquelyn Campbell of Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, for more than 10 years. RUSafe’s questions are targeted toward victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse and aim to provide them with ways to best handle their possible situations.

“When the Pittsburgh police started to use this modified questionnaire as part of the national lethality assessment program, Women’s Center saw the greater potential to reach individuals that never come in contact with a domestic violence program or the police,” Regan said in an email. 

The shelter partnered with Newton Consulting, a technology firm in Claysville, Pa., to create RUSafe. To develop the app, WC&S conducted focus groups with domestic violence survivors and used its findings to create a pilot application in Pittsburgh. Now, the app is going national. 

Regan said she hopes that RUSafe will be a tool for the community at large along with hospitals, schools and other organizations. 

“The app is meant to reach victims and individuals who are concerned about someone they know and is also meant to help raise awareness around the issue of domestic violence,” Regan said in an email. 

William Gay, a cornerback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, is the national spokesperson for RUSafe. He often appears in RUSafe public service announcements and educational flyers to promote the app. 

Gay’s promotion of the app, in which he shares his mother’s experience with domestic abuse, helps to reveal the pervasiveness of the issue, according to Frayda Cohen, a women’s studies senior lecturer. 

“I think in some way it helps to open people’s eyes that this could be an everyday experience. It doesn’t have to be something so extreme or dramatic or something that happens to someone else. I think they’ve worked to personalize it a little bit,” Cohen said. 

Eleanora Kaloyeropoulou, president of Pitt’s Campus Women’s Organization (CWO), said creating awareness about domestic violence helps reassure victims that reaching out for help is the right thing to do. One of CWO’s primary causes is to be a resource for victims of sexual violence and to prevent it in the future.

“There’s a lot of stigma associated with domestic violence,” Kaloyeropoulou, a junior studying Africana studies and history, said. “A lot of the time, people think it’s their fault, but if you have [support] coming from all avenues — from the app, from the hotline, from your favorite Steelers player — telling you that it’s not your fault and that you’re not alone, that is really motivating and reassuring for a person.” 

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App created for assault victims