This summer, incoming Loyola University students are getting a new digital tool to fight the sexual assault problem on college campuses.
With funding from the U.S. Department of Justice, a group of Loyola administrators and students created "Here for You," a mobile app that walks users through the campus resources available to students who have experienced sexual violence, including dating and domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault.
Students also can select an option on the app called, "I'm not sure," when they need help navigating incidents that are not clear-cut.
The idea was to make campus resources more accessible to students, according to Stephanie Atella, a senior health educator at Loyola who coordinates the school's sexual assault and domestic violence advocacy services. She said some students don’t feel comfortable copying down information from a poster in their dorm or talking to their college advisers after being assaulted, whereas an app can help them quickly identify what they need and whom to talk to.
"We wanted to have a private way for students to access that information, and how students can help a friend," she said. "Students are always on their cellphones, so that was important to us."
Sexual violence can have a lasting effect on a student’s college trajectory, many counselors say, especially if the student tries to ignore the incident. Some have trouble leaving their dorm or being alone, or have trouble concentrating on schoolwork and attending class.
It's also an underreported problem, particularly on college campuses where students are sometimes encouraged to treat the problem as a university disciplinary matter, rather than go to the police.
Loyola University drew attention in January 2013 when a student was charged with sexually assaulting two of his classmates over consecutive nights.
Atella wrote a proposal for the app in 2012, and with help of other wellness center staff members, students piloted the app last November. This summer for the first time, incoming Loyola students will be briefed on where to find the app and the services at campus orientations, which are scheduled during June, July and August. She said the app already has been downloaded at least 325 times since November.
Atella said it's important for universities to take an active role in preventing sexual assault and helping survivors get help--especially when the goal is to create a safer culture.
"Incidents of gender-based violence can be earth-shattering and traumatizing, and can spill over into other areas of students lives," she said. "One goal of Loyola's is to talk about it. We're creating a culture that supports people who decide to report these under-reported crimes."
The free app is available for download from the iTunes store. Students in the school's computer science department are working on an Android version of the app this year.
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