Home / Mint-lounge / Features /  Circle of 6 | A safety net on your fingertips

Past life

The team of developers behind Circle of 6 is as diverse as it gets. Nancy Schwartzman, Christine Moran and Thomas Cabus have different vocations but their interest in women’s safety brought them together.

Schwartzman, 35, a rape survivor, was producing and directing movies in the US. Best known for her activism in the areas of sexuality and consent, her 2009 documentary, The Line, focused on the spike in violent sexual assaults in New York, US, where she lives currently.

She also directed The Line Campaign, an attempt to start a dialogue on rape on college campuses in the US, in 2009.

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Cabus, 39, who developed the user interface for Circle of 6, collaborated with Schwartzman on The Line Campaign too. The Paris-born creative director, designer and photographer spends his time between San Francisco, New York and Paris, working on projects for clients such as Oracle, Air France and Orange.

Eureka moment

Circle of 6 was developed as a free, anti-violence iPhone app in response to the White House Apps Against Abuse Contest in 2011, which it won. “On its first day in the iTunes store, the app got over 8,000 downloads.

US vice-president Joe Biden called it “a new line of defence against violence" and the message reached India more than a year later, in December, when a girl was gang raped in New Delhi. “We got involved when Google alerts for Circle of 6 started flooding our inbox and download numbers rose in India," Schwartzman recalls.

Genesis

Schwartzman’s activism on violence against women began with New York City—she founded Safestreets.org, a Brooklyn-based neighbourhood watch organization, in December 2005.

The app interface on mobile
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The app interface on mobile

Friends Cabus and Schwartzman met Moran in Zurich and together, they founded Tech 4 Good, a global team that develops anti-violence tools and campaigns.

For Circle of 6, Tech 4 Good’s first collaborative effort, Schwartzman carried out assessment studies on how young people would use the app, Cabus worked on the user interface, and Moran wrote the code.

The app allows users to add the contact information of six trusted friend and send them a message for help, along with the GPS information tagged, when in distress. “The idea is that when you are away from home, you build your own network of security with friends and family you trust. This is what Circle of 6 banks on," Schwartzman says.

It also links it to women’s safety hotlines such as the Delhi government’s 181 and the helpline run by non-governmental organization (NGO) Jagori. The user is directed to the Delhi-based NGO, the Lawyers Collective, if she does not want to call the police.

“The SMS messages in the app are already embedded so it can take away the shame or the fear of knowing how to talk about the issue," explains Schwartzman.

The app has more than 72,000 users in countries such as the US, New Zealand and Australia, including 8,500 in India.

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“Christine told me that the language had to be subtle, especially for people who were in abusive relationships," says Schwartzman. For Cabus, attaining simplicity and privacy were the main concerns.

“It was really important to us that a potential offender looking at the screen wouldn’t really know what it is about," he explains.

Cabus designed a user interface that makes the app look more like a social game, not a personal safety one.

Plan B

“We just did it with no other thought in mind and now we have other mobile versions to work on," says Schwartzman.

Secret sauce

“Two things make it usable anywhere in the world: GPS and a resource on the app which allows you to put in your own trusted numbers, your own hotline choice. That’s why the app was downloaded in India even before we had customized it," Schwartzman explains.

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