Sexual violence is more prevalant at colleges compared to any other crime, with 26.4% of women and 6.8% of men experiencing rape or sexual assault during their undergraduate years, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.
Since the return to Penn State for the spring semester, seven sexual assaults have been reported.
While campus safety is a high priority for universities, the need for individual security is a must-have, according to some Penn State students.
Max Young, founder of the HOOOT app and computer software engineering student at the University of Colorado Boulder, took this into his own hands and decided to try to create a solution.
HOOOT is a personal safety app designed to help reduce sexual assaults on college campuses, according to Young.
“One of my inspirations was the statistics for sexual assault — these crimes are just way too high on college campuses,” Young said. “[Over] 26% of women experience sexual assault while at school throughout four years, so that was a big influence on me.”
Young said people can create an account and add a list of emergency contacts on the app. Additionally, users are able to create a code word to notify the contacts of the user’s location — if they are ever in trouble — without having to unlock their phone.
Candice Ouellette, director of marketing communications for HOOOT, said the app allows users to have an unlimited amount of emergency contacts.
“You are not just limited to one or more friends or parents, and you can change it depending on where you are on campus,” Ouellette said. “So, it really opens up the opportunity for help if users need it, no matter what.”
Young said he thinks users will feel secure knowing friends and family are aware of their location if they are in danger. He also expects people to use the app while walking around campus alone at night — and not just while at parties.
“I have had that problem on my campus. I am sure students at Penn State also feel that,” Young said. “I just think Penn State is such a large university and social scene that there are so many people on campus [who] can take view and value.”
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Ouellette found that stalking — on top of the risk of sexual assault — has increased for students who enter college campuses, as well as a general risk of dangerous situations.
“Even if the user is not in an obvious dangerous situation, or they have a creepy feeling or vibe, [the app] is right there,” Ouellette said.
Katie Hunter, a HOOOT user from Florida State University, said she feels the app is a great way to feel safe on college campuses.
“I think it has fulfilled a gap that the other apps haven’t,” Hunter said. “In most scary situations, you do not want to be on your phone to make a call or text, so being able to have it notify someone for you with just a safe word is very useful.”
Hunter said she believes adding a safe word to alert the police of a user's location would also be useful for when friends or family may not be quickly accessible.
While Lisa Powers, senior director for Penn State strategic communications, “cannot comment specifically” on the HOOOT app itself, she said Penn State is aware of the new app and “[applauds] any effort to increase the safety within a community.”
“There are a number of new apps related to safety that have emerged in recent times, however, it is hard to predict what impact these various apps may have on any university campus,” Powers said. “It is important to inform police when you feel your safety is at risk and we urge everyone in our community to call 911 in an emergency.”