DAVID GREENE, HOST:
All right, much of modern dating takes place online, often using smartphone apps. While the Internet may make getting a date easier, it is still sometimes not so simple to leave a date you don't want to be on. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports on some smartphone apps. They are designed for college students but could be useful for anyone who wants to use technology to help stay safe.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: On a recent episode of the popular sitcom "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," a conversation about sexual consent turns pretty ridiculous. The character Kimmy, who's new to the college scene, meets a guy who is interested in more than just conversation.
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CAMERON COWPERTHWAITE: (As Austin) But before we do this, let's review each other's sexual consent forms.
ELLIE KEMPER: (As Kimmy Schmidt) I'm sorry. What is this?
COWPERTHWAITE: (As Austin) It's what I'm agreeing to let you do to me.
KEMPER: (As Kimmy Schmidt) Oh, no. Austin, I like you, but I just met you.
AUBREY: It's over the top. Right? I mean, it's meant as entertainment, but this scene plays off some real-world uncertainty over how to navigate consent. Here is sociologist Sharyn Potter of the University of New Hampshire.
SHARYN POTTER: There is confusion regarding consent among college-aged men and women.
AUBREY: Potter researches sexual assault prevention strategies. She says sometimes the confusion stems from the different ways that men and women communicate and think about consent.
POTTER: Men see consent as an event, and women see consent as a process.
AUBREY: She says recent studies of college students show that men and women can have very different presumptions about what to expect on a date or a casual meetup.
POTTER: Think of the example of a man and woman deciding to go back to one of their rooms to watch a movie.
AUBREY: When this happens, the research shows, a woman is more likely to have this expectation.
POTTER: She's agreeing to watch the movie and maybe hold hands.
AUBREY: Whereas men, the research shows, tend to expect more of a sexual encounter.
POTTER: And so it's just these gendered expectations of what's in a yes.
AUBREY: Now, it doesn't always work this way - gender roles evolve. But either way, if you end up alone with someone whose expectations conflict with your own, the situation can go south quickly. To help prevent this, Sharyn Potter and a bunch of collaborators have come up with something new. They've developed an app called uSafeUS. It was piloted on New Hampshire campuses and is now available for anyone to download. One aim is to help people get out of sticky situations. Student Celine Guedj, who's a senior, explains how the app works.
CELINE GUEDJ: Let's say you match with somebody on Tinder, and you're talking for a couple weeks. And, you know, they say - hey, let's watch a movie at my dorm room. And you think, you know, I'm safe. I'm on campus. This is another student.
AUBREY: But once you get there, things start to get a little weird.
GUEDJ: So now you're in a situation where you're alone with this person. And you are thinking, I need to get out. I no longer feel safe.
AUBREY: That's when, Guedj says, you open the app. With a few quick touches, the app is programmed to start sending you text messages or calls.
GUEDJ: Yeah. You'd get a fake call that sounds like it's your roommate.
AUBREY: She says something like she's locked out and needs your help. Guedj says it seems real, and it gives you an excuse to get out quick.
GUEDJ: You could show that person - oh, hey, look, my roommate just messaged me. Ah, this sucks. I got to go.
AUBREY: So why the ruse? Why not just walk out at the first instinct that something's off? Guedj says that's easier said than done.
GUEDJ: In that situation where you already feel unsafe, you know, they've already given you bad vibes, it's just so important that you can leave discreetly so that it doesn't escalate.
AUBREY: There are lots of prevention apps out there with similar features. And they're not just for college students. Nancy Schwartzman developed one called Circle of 6. It's marketed as a safety app for everyone. It's being used by people across the country and even on some military bases. It connects circles of friends.
NANCY SCHWARTZMAN: Circle of 6 was designed really mirroring what friends - and especially women - have always done for each other, which is look out for each other - where are you going to be? Check in with me later if you want. I mean, this stuff's always been there, so we just brought it to the mobile context.
AUBREY: Sexual assault is a complex problem. And obviously, apps can't solve it. But Schwartzman and the researchers behind the other safety apps say they hope the technology can help.
Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
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