We turn to our smart phones to findtrendy restaurants, dress for the weather, and check in on our friends’ latest adventures. For some people, leaving the house sans iPhone or Android is downright impossible. So why not use our collective technology addiction as a force for good? One new app, called Circle of 6, is harnessing both technology and communities to help prevent sexual assault and other dangerous situations for men and women.

Photo: Circle of 6

What’s the Deal

In 2011, a start-up called Tech for Good wanted to find a way to use technology to prevent sexual assault, especially among college students. According to current statistics, nearly one in five women are sexually assaulted at some point in her life. Unfortunately, many of these assaults happen at college, where between 20 and 25 percent of women are victims of sexual assault at some point. Many college assaults happen when people (both men and women) are alone late at night, be that at a party or even just walking across campus. Based on these issues, the Circle of 6 team decided to create an app that allows friends to check in on each other, find each other easily, and ultimately stay safe.

After downloading the app, each user programs six friends’ phone numbers into their “circle.” It sounds counterintuitive, but the best friends to have in your circle aren’t necessarily the wild party animals. The website explains it’s important to think about which friends keep their phones charged and on at night, respond to texts in a timely fashion, and have access to transportation. Choosing a “circle of 6” is about responsibility and accountability, not popularity.

Any user can activate the app and choose one of the four icons — a car, phone, chat, and emergency icon — to send to the members of their circle. The car icon sends a “pick me up” message alongside a GPS map with your location, the phone icon sends a “need an interruption, please call me” message, the chat icon lets the circle know you’re not in danger but would like friends to keep track of you, and the emergency button calls a pre-programmed national hotline or local number (for example, the area police or campus safety office) customized by the user. The app flashes a “message received” notification when help is on the way.

Why It Matters

Circle of 6 makes it easy and convenient for friends to stay in touch, and will hopefully help users get out of tricky situations before they become dangerous. Nancy Schwartzman, one of the Tech for Good team members, explained that contacting your circle is as easy as opening an app and tapping an icon. It’s easy to pretend you’re answering a text, or checking a social media site, she said.

The most important part of the app may be the unspoken but inherent promise between the circle members: as a part of someone’s circle, you’re responsible for their safety — that means answering texts, hopping in the car (or calling a cab), and keeping track of friends’ whereabouts — even late at night. The pledge at the bottom of the Circle of 6 website says it all: “I won’t let violence happen in my circle.”

Is it Legit

Absolutely! The app has been extremely successful in the United States (heck, it even won the White House/HHS Apps against Abuse Technology Challenge and the Institute of Medicine/Avon Foundation for Women End Violence @Home Challenge) and India, where it is programmed in Hindi and contains local resources for the New Delhi area. Looking forward, the Circle of 6 team is planning to streamline the design and expand to new geographical areas. Schwartzman explained that the team is working with the Mexican government and Department of Health to create a Spanish-language app with local and national resources for men and women south of the border.

Circle of 6 is free for iPhone and Android, and currently available in English and Hindi.

Do you think the Circle of 6 app would make you feel safer at night? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below or find the author on Twitter at @SophBreene.