App Links Sex Assault Survivors To Help, But Who Downloads It? : Shots - Health News The D.C.-based smartphone tool connects people with a ride to the hospital and a team of medical professionals trained in dealing with sexual assault. But students aren't rushing to download the app.

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

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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.

RACHEL 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.

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