Janaa Bryant didn’t know what she was getting herself into when she agreed to let a guy she met at a West Apartment party in May walk her back to her dorm.
When they reached Hand College in Tabler, Bryant was ready to part ways and head to her room by herself. But the guy insisted on walking with her.
“I thought it was weird,” she recalls.
He followed Bryant up the stairs and into her room. All of her suitemates had gone home for the weekend. She was drunk. The situation was not in her favor.
Her intoxicated state caused her to pass out for a few seconds, and when she woke up, the guy was sitting next to her with his penis out.
“Get away from me,” Bryant, who was then a junior, said. “I have a boyfriend.”
She reached for her BlackBerry and drunkenly tried to dial a friend’s number. Noticing her struggling, the guy took the phone and assured her that everything was fine.
She passed out again.
This time when she woke up, the guy was sitting by her legs masturbating.
“Let me pleasure you,” he told her.
“No, get off of me,” Bryant demanded. “I have a boyfriend.”
She flailed her legs in a panic and kicked him. He ran to the bathroom and then came out shortly after.
“Fine, fine, I’ll leave,” he said angrily.
Although Bryant did attempt to call a friend, she found herself too drunk to scroll through her contacts or dial a number. A simpler way to contact help could have prevented her situation from escalating to that point—a simpler way such as OnWatch, for example.
OnWatch is an app for the iPhone and Android that will call or sends text messages to preprogrammed phone numbers, like campus police or a friend, with just two taps of the screen. It is the winner of Vice President Joe Biden’s Apps Against Abuse Challenge, a contest held last year that sought out innovative phone applications designed to protect young women. According to the White House, one in every five women will experience an attempted assault in college.
OnWatch founder and creator Jill Campbell, a tax accountant, developed the app after she experienced several situations in her life where she felt she could have used protection.
“I started writing down instances in my life where I needed an alarm,” the 67-year old says. “In those instances, you’re going to want 911or your friends.”
The app, which launched in April, offers several features. In addition to calling campus police or 911 instantly, the user can simultaneously call them and preprogrammed friends. ‘Emergency Friends’ sends a prewritten text message to any contacts the user adds, and it will even post the message to Twitter or Facebook when activated. ‘Watch My Back’ can be used for running or a blind date, for example. It allows the user to set a timer with an alarm that will go off if she does not respond to it; the preprogrammed contacts will receive text messages and emails alerting them that the user needs help. ‘I’m Here’ will alert certain contacts that the user safely arrived at her destination. All of these features use GPS technology to alert the user’s contacts of her location, and contacts don’t need to have OnWatch installed on their phones.
“This app allows the individual to be empowered,” says Medora Heilbron, head of University Relations for OnWatch. “It allows you to take control.”
But safety, in this case, comes with a price. Once downloaded, OnWatch is
free for 90 days—about a whole semester—with a valid school email address, but after the subscription expires the user must purchase the app for $4.99 per month or $49.99 for a year. The options to call campus police and 911, however, are available at no cost.
Stony Brook offers a similar feature called SB Guardian. Students can sign up for SB Guardian and program a special number into their phones. Calling that number notifies University Police, and if a student is using a smartphone, an officer will automatically know where he or she is on campus. When students sign up for it they can provide a photo, class schedule and any other personal information they choose that will show up when they call.
University Police Chief Robert Lenahan acknowledges that OnWatch could be very helpful, but he advises Stony Brook students to utilize SB Guardian instead because it’s designed specifically for this campus. And it’s free.
“I think what we offer is more beneficial,” he says.
But when Amy Streifer, a senior majoring in journalism, was at a frat party last semester and saw a girl passed out on the deck in the rain, she didn’t call campus police because she didn’t know the number.
“I’m a college student, but I don’t really think of UPD as a go-to,” she says. Streifer also didn’t know about SB Guardian, or that dialing 911 from any campus phone will directly call Stony Brook police. “I wish I knew that,” she says.
Streifer says an app like OnWatch “would’ve been totally beneficial” that night at the frat party. She says that if Stony Brook police advertised its number and services more, she would have been more likely to utilize one of them to help that girl.
“If they inform us more, we’ll take the necessary steps,” she says.
OnWatch isn’t the first of its kind out in the app world—there are dozens such as bSafe, StreetSafe and more that use smartphones’ GPS capabilities. Campbell says she believes that in the future cell phones will become great tools for safety, and Lenahan agrees.
“We’ve come a long way,” he says.
And for Bryant, she says that an app like OnWatch definitely would help other girls who might find themselves in situations similar to hers.
“That would be very useful.”