“Apps Against Abuse” Challenge to Help Address Sexual Assault and Dating Violence

Today, we are taking a new approach in our effort to address dating violence and sexual assault. 

Working  together with my colleagues in the Office of the Vice President and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, we launched the “Apps Against Abuse” technology challenge – a national competition to develop an innovative software application, or “app,” that provides young adults with tools to help prevent sexual assault and dating violence. I had a chance to discuss the challenge, along with other ways agencies can attack this problem, during a meeting hosted by Vice President Biden at the White House earlier today.

Having spent years volunteering with victims of domestic violence, I’ve seen firsthand how vulnerable some women are in their own homes and their communities as a result of violence and abuse. Young women face the highest rates of dating violence and sexual assault. Nineteen percent (nearly 1 in 5) of women report experiencing sexual assault while in college. And while a majority of college students say that it is important to intervene, many often say they don’t know how. Moreover, over half – sixty percent – of college students who have been in an abusive relationship say no one helped them.

Through the “Apps Against Abuse” challenge, developers will be charged with creating an easy-to-use application that provides a targeted way for young women to designate trusted friends, allies, or emergency contacts and provide a means for checking-in with these individuals in real-time, particularly in at-risk situations. The winning application will also provide quick access to resources and information on sexual assault and teen dating violence, as well as where to go for help.

 “Just as technology is changing the way young people communicate with each other every day, it’s also changing the way young people can protect themselves and their friends from becoming victims of sexual violence. This challenge is a chance to empower a new generation to take a stand against violence,” said Vice President Biden, who for over 20 years has led the fight to combat violence against women, including authoring the landmark Violence Against Women Act of 1994 when he was Senator. In April, the Vice President introduced comprehensive guidance with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to help schools, colleges and universities better understand their obligations under federal civil rights laws to prevent and respond to the problem of campus sexual assault.

The “Apps Against Abuse” challenge furthers federal efforts to increase support for victims of sexual assault and abuse and create innovative and targeted ways to bring about change.  As Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Chief Technology Officer said, "We want to tap into the creativity of the American people to empower women who wish to communicate distress in a trusted and immediate way."

We believe it is more important than ever to support programs that help prevent violence and save lives, and we remain committed to supporting a wide range of programs that provide services, information and other resources to address violence against women as part of broader program goals.

Additional information and submission guidelines are available at the "Apps Against Abuse" website. The winner of the challenge will be announced in October 2011.

Kathleen Sebelius is the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
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