News and analysis
March 10, 2013

App Seeks to Protect Women From Dangerous Social Situations

With the touch of a button, young women can send already-written text messages to friends along with a map of their precise location.

Sometimes preventing rape and other hazards that women face can be as simple as giving someone a graceful way to leave an uncomfortable encounter.

Circle of Six, a mobile application created by an Oakland, Calif., charity, helps young women keep potentially dangerous situations from escalating. The application lets people select six of their most trusted, reliable friends from their contact list. Then with one click, they can send out preprogrammed text messages to those friends that include a map with their precise location, using the phone’s GPS capabilities.

Clicking the car icon sends out a “come and get me” message, while the telephone icon issues a request that someone call to give her an excuse to leave a situation that doesn’t feel right. An emergency button connects the user to emergency services.

“Let’s say you go to a party and maybe you’ve imbibed a little too much and you can’t find a ride home,” says Deb Levine, executive director of ISIS, the organization that created the app. “You can actually send a text message to those six people in your circle with your GPS location that then lets them know you need a ride home.”

Focus on the Audience

Figuring out the right tool to achieve a specific goal can be tricky and requires that nonprofits know their audience, says Ms. Levine. Because, she says, Circle of Six was designed for college-age women, who are likely to own smartphones, developing an app made sense. But that isn’t always the case.

“When you’re thinking about mobile, a lot of nonprofits lose their heads,” says Ms. Levine. “They get so enamored of the technology itself that they forget a lot of what they know works.”­

Send an e-mail to Nicole Wallace.