Circle of 6 introduced to prevent assault

The Circle of 6 app performs a variety of tasks to help prevent sexual assault.
The Circle of 6 app performs a variety of tasks to help prevent sexual assault. Photo courtesy of Circle of 6.

As part of continuing efforts to prevent rape and sexual assault on campus, the College has announced the launch of a two-year pilot program with Tech 4 Good, Inc. to bring its Circle of 6 app to the Purple Valley.

The app, developed by filmmaker and activist Nancy Schwartzman, is a component of recently appointed Director of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Meg Bossong’s series of initiatives to turn the continuing discourse on sexual violation into plans of action.

“One of the things I really like about the app is that it is fundamentally a bystander app,” Bossong said. “It’s an awesome thing for people to have on their phone for themselves. The power of this app is that it helps people say that they are intervening because they are being asked and they know exactly what kind of help would be most useful for any given situation.”

Upon downloading Circle of 6, the user of the app is directed to select up to six of their contacts to form his or her “circle.” If the student were to feel in danger, or need help getting out of a precarious situation, the app allows the individual to send a prewritten text message based on the assistance needed with his or her GPS location. The College’s version of the app also comes with the numbers of campus and local resources – such as Campus Safety & Security and the Williamstown Police Department – to make calling for help easier and faster.

The College’s relationship with Tech 4 Good also enables Bossong and the school’s administration to gather and analyze data from the app to craft future programming. “The data we get is totally anonymous, but we can see that if over the course of a month a certain amount of people chose the ‘call me’ option, we need to spend a lot more time working with people on how to talk to their friends about being appropriate and understanding people’s boundaries in social settings,” Bossong said.

Similarly, the pilot program allows the College to track whether users are relying more on phone or web-based resources within the app to determine where resources can be used most effectively.

Student leaders on issues surrounding sexual assault are excited by Circle of 6’s arrival at the College. “We hope that students sign up for Circle of 6 and use it,” said Matt Davies ’17, head of Men for Consent – a student organization dedicated to educating the community about sexual assault and violence. “It’s a powerful tool that has good functionality built into it to help prevent sexual violence.”

Shannon Zikovich ’15, co-coordinator of the Rape and Sexual Assault Network, which provides support services to survivors of sexual assault at Williams, similarly expressed support for the College’s introduction of the app: “What’s really great about the Circle of 6 app is that it allows people to take the next step as active bystanders and help out their friends when they’re in need. I get the sense that, often, Williams students are willing to and want to step in as active bystanders, but they just don’t know how. This app facilitates both the asking for and giving of help in a simple, understated manner. My hope is that once the app familiarizes students with how and when to best help their friends, students will be active bystanders without the app, and without being asked.”

Though Bossong thinks the primary purpose of Circle of 6 is  to combat sexual assault, she also plans for the applicability of the app to increase throughout the course of the pilot program.

“We need to bring along dating violence and stalking as companion ways of understanding how we are being respectful or harmful to people in our communities. I am hoping that this app is useful for those issues as well. We were really careful with the options for Circle of 6 to make sure it was not totally specific to sexual violence. Hopefully, if people are experiencing violence in their intimate relationships … this app will be useful for them because we need to be addressing these issues.”

Throughout this school year, Bossong also hopes to encourage upper class students to use the app. Although first-year students were given various opportunities to download the app during First Days, there hasn’t yet been similar class-wide programming for the rest of students, according to Bossong. She explained that the College has plans to use Daily Messages, teams and clubs, the Neighborhood Leadership Teams and other sources to spread the word. “One of the pieces of feedback that’s been so useful is that the app is general enough in its ‘asks’ of friends to be useful in many situations, not just those involving sexual or dating violence, so I think it will have a lot of appeal,” Bossong said.