App Links Sex Assault Survivors To Help, But Who Downloads It?

Jan 24, 2015
Originally published on January 26, 2015 7:48 am

Maya Weinstein is now a happy, bubbly junior at the George Washington University. But she says that two years ago, just a few weeks after she arrived on campus as a freshman, she was sexually assaulted by a fellow student.

"It was one of those 'acquaintance rape' things that people forget about, even though they are way more common," she says.

As Hurricane Sandy passed over the Washington area, she and her friends went to an off-campus party. Upon returning, she ran into an older student she knew from around campus. By the time she ended up in his bedroom, Weinstein says, she was intoxicated to the point of passing out.

It wasn't until she woke up the next morning — in his bed, with no memory of getting there — that she realized she'd been sexually assaulted. Weinstein says she barely knew where the campus bookstore was, let alone where to go for sexual assault services.

"Do I go to Student Health, do I walk into the ER or do I call 911?" says Weinstein. "I've always had this image of, like, walking into the ER ... that's what you do, you show up there, you're all like disheveled, and they do what they do."

Not knowing where to turn, she instead did nothing.

"I just stood in the shower and I cried," she says.

What Weinstein didn't know was that Washington has one of the most comprehensive sexual assault survivor programs in the nation. By calling one phone number — 1-800-641-4028 — she could have gotten a free ride to MedStar Washington Hospital, the designated forensic hospital in D.C. There, she would have been met by a sexual assault counselor, who would take her through the whole process.

The hospital has trained forensic nurses on-call 24/7 to provide rape kits and conduct physical exams of victims. Survivors also get emergency contraception, STD tests, antibiotics and a 28-day course of HIV medication — all for free.

And the patient drives the process.

"You do not have to report to the police to receive any kind of medical or forensic care," says Jana Parrish, nursing director of the forensic nurses program.

The services don't get linked to the patient's medical records, either. Those working in the field say these efforts are getting more people to seek treatment, which in turn gets more rapes reported.

"We have over a 10 percent increased reporting rate every single year since 2008, since we began this program," says Heather DeVore, the medical director of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program.

She's pleased with the uptick, but says it's not enough: "It's still the tip of the iceberg ... most people don't seek care and don't get any sort of help."

Take Weinstein. A month into her freshman year, how she was to know that these services were available to her?

That scenario is what prompted a group called Men Can Stop Rape to partner with the Mayor's Office of Victims Services to put all this information into an easy-to-use app. ASK, or Assault Services Knowledge, centralizes 55 different services available to victims of sexual assault and highlights the phone number to call to access them. For college students specifically, there's UASK. The "U" stands for "university," and all nine schools in Washington participate.

"It centralizes, essentially, all of these different resources that survivors can access — everything from being able to get a free Uber ride to a hospital to finding out what your university offers," says Ariella Neckritz, president of Students Against Sexual Assault at GW.

Her group helps advertise UASK on campus. They want all students on campus to download it on their phone, so no one ever will have to wonder what to do after being sexually assaulted. The app has been around for two years, but hasn't quite caught on at these schools.

"To date, we've had over 14,000 people access both UASK and ASK, which is really great," says Rachel Friedman, the deputy director of Men Can Stop Rape.

While 14,000 people is progress, it's nowhere close to reaching everyone they are aiming for. There are almost 100,000 university students at the nine schools, and there are more than 650,000 full-time D.C. residents. The vast majority of them never have heard of the app.

On campus, Neckritz admits the universities could do a better job marketing the app. They may be hesitant to tell students (or their parents) just how useful a sexual assault app is in this day and age. But part of the problem is the students themselves.

Neckritz says her peers tend to "see sexual assault as an outside issue — as something that isn't directly affecting you, your life, your campus, your community."

Even Maya Weinstein doesn't have the app on her phone. She says her freshman-year experience has left her well-prepared, app or no app. But her classmates are a different story.

"I don't know who would download the app," she says. "You don't want to think that you're ever going to need it, so why would you put it on your phone?"

But as Weinstein can tell you, sexual assault does happen. She went on to file a no-contact order against her alleged assailant, after tracking down the Title IX coordinator's phone number and setting up an appointment.

"She was the person that I was supposed to go to," says Weinstein. "She had all the information."

That was three months after the assault. When you open the UASK app and select GW, that coordinator is the first name that pops up.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Students in Washington, D.C., have access to one of the most comprehensive sexual assault survivor programs in the nation. Local groups as well as the mayor's office have assembled an array of services, from immediate care to long-term counseling, but connecting students to those services can be difficult. NPR's Eleanor Klibanoff reports.

ELEANOR KLIBANOFF, BYLINE: Maya Weinstein is a junior at the George Washington University.

MAYA WEINSTEIN: I was raped my freshman year here by someone that I knew.

KLIBANOFF: After going out with friends, Weinstein ran into an older student she knew from around campus. By the time she ended up in his bedroom, she says she was intoxicated to the point of passing out. It wasn't until she woke up the next morning that Weinstein realized she had been sexually assaulted. She had no idea where to turn.

WEINSTEIN: Do I go to student health? Do I walk into the ER or do I call 911? I've always had this image of, like, walking into the ER and, like, that's what you do. You show up there and you're all, like, disheveled and they do what they do.

KLIBANOFF: Instead she did nothing.

WEINSTEIN: I just stood in the shower and I cried.

KLIBANOFF: Weinstein didn't know she could've gotten a free ride to a designated hospital where she'd be met by a sexual assault counselor. There she could get a forensic exam from a trained nurse, like Jana Parrish, who stressed that the victim drives the whole process. For example...

JANA PARRISH: You do not have to report to the police to receive any kind of medical or forensic care. If you could fit that in somewhere that's great.

KLIBANOFF: Survivors also get emergency contraception, STD tests and any medication they need. Services are free and don't get linked to your medical records in any way. These offerings are getting more people to seek treatment.

HEATHER DEVORE: We have over a 10 percent increased reporting rate every single year since 2008, since we began this program.

KLIBANOFF: Heather DeVore, the medical director of the Sexual Assault Nurse Program, is cautiously optimistic.

DEVORE: It's still the tip of the iceberg that most people don't seek care and don't get any sort of help.

KLIBANOFF: Take Weinstein - a month into her freshman year, how was she to know that these services were available to her? That's what prompted Men Can Stop Rape and the Mayor's Office of Victim Services to put all this information into an easy-to-use app. It's called ASK, or Assault Services Knowledge. For college students specifically, there's UASK. The U stands for university and all nine schools in D.C. participate.

ARIELLA NECKRITZ: It centralizes, essentially, all of these different resources that survivors can access - everything from being able to get a free Uber ride to a hospital to finding out what your university offers.

KLIBANOFF: Ariella Neckritz, the president of an anti-sexual assault group at George Washington, says this app needs to be on every student's phone. It means no one will ever have to wonder what to do after they've been sexually assaulted. The app has been around for two years. I asked Rachel Friedman, the deputy director of Men Can Stop Rape, how successful ASK and UASK have been.

JESSE FRIEDMAN: To date, we've had over 14,000 people access both UASK and ASK, which is really great.

KLIBANOFF: Fourteen-thousand downloads is progress, but it's nowhere close to reaching all of the almost 100,000 students at these nine schools. GW's Ariella Neckritz admits the universities could do a better job marketing the app. She thinks they may be hesitant to tell students - or, really, their parents - just how useful a sexual assault app is in this day and age, but part of the problem is the students themselves. Neckritz says lots of her peers are guilty of...

NECKRITZ: Trying to see sexual assault as an outside issue, as something that isn't directly affecting you, your life, your campus, your community.

KLIBANOFF: Even Maya Weinstein, a survivor of sexual assault, doesn't have the app on her phone. She says she knows the system well enough now, but her classmates are another matter.

WEINSTEIN: I don't know who would download the app. You don't want to think that you're ever going to need it, so why would you put it on your phone?

KLIBANOFF: It's that perception of invincibility that activists are up against and committed to overcome. Eleanor Klibanoff, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.