Meet The Guy Who’s Helping To Stop The University Rape Crisis

By : Alex MaysTwitterLogo

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We’ve all been there. You’re out on a big night out and getting ready to hit the next pub or bar, when you realise that you’ve lost a few mates on the way.

Panic sets in, you begin to seriously worry. You start asking yourself, where are they? Are they okay? Could they be lost, or even worse?

Well, hopefully this could soon become a thing of the past with a new free app that’s hitting the market this week called bthere.

Bthere is the brainchild of Ben Johanson and is an app that allows you to have your friend group at your fingertips, combining group message and location sharing, to help friends get together and stay together on nights out, parties and any other social occasions.

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Speaking to UNILAD, Ben, 28, said he was inspired to create a way to help keep track of friends when a good friend of his was sexually assaulted while in college a few years ago.

“When my close friend told me that she was sexually assaulted, it didn’t inspire me [to make the app] at first. Or give me some great idea. It shattered me, honestly. But it also lit this fire in me, and so I began reading and researching as much as I could on the problem,” he said.

Ben admits that he’s a little embarrassed that at the time he didn’t realise how prevalent sexual assault on college or university campuses really was.

A study by the Associations of American Universities in 2015 found that 23 per cent of female college students experience unwanted sexual contact, and 11 per cent were sexually assaulted, including rape.

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And it’s also a massive problem in Britain. Research by The Telegraph last year revealed that a third of female students in the UK had endured sexual assault or unwanted advances.

Ben delved into some serious research and found that many studies cited bystander intervention as the most effective way of preventing sexual assault, but this rarely materialises.

After speaking to university students, he soon realised why. They admitted that despite wanting to keep an eye out on their friends, when you add in drinking, partying and crowds, it’s almost impossible to do so.

That’s where he hopes bthere will come in. The app allows you to create permanent circles with close friends, roommates, or family, or you can create temporary circles that will disappear after a night out or event together.

Thanks to its GPS feature it shows everyone’s location on a map (with personalised emojis), has fully-functional group messaging, and you even get an alert when your friend’s battery hits the 10 percent mark, indicating they may soon be out of reach.

The one-tap ‘come get me’ button is also available if anyone needs immediate help, whether it’s wanting to be rescued from a bad date or saved from more serious situations.

But ultimately, Ben hopes that these improved social interactions and additional features will make it less about emergencies and more about preventing uncomfortable situations from escalating any further.

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He tells us: 

By creating this conversation around the topic of friends wanting to be there for each other, it’s a great way of building an awareness of where our friends are and a willingness to intervene once we recognise a situation which could lead to something non-consensual. If we see something developing, and maybe a friend is getting separated from the group that isn’t in a good place to give consent, by circling up in these groups we can build that boldness to step in and help each other. Prevention is absolutely key.

Ben cited the work of college campuses across the U.S. in dealing with this growing issue, saying they’re already doing a ‘great job’ in educating what consent is.

However, Ben explains that this alone isn’t going to solve the unprecedented rise in sexual assaults – it requires a shift in attitude towards rape culture.

“This is also a cultural issue that I think will take concerted efforts from lots of groups to really address, and we just want to be a part of that,” he said.

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That’s when we got onto the high-profile and extremely controversial Brock Turner case. The 21-year-old was found guilty of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman at Stanford University.

But in a blaring example of white privilege, he was widely referred to by most media outlets as the ‘Stanford swimmer’ or ‘Olympic hopeful’, instead of suspected rapist.

And because of this wealthy upbringing, paired with his youth and clean record, his father managed to engineer his son a six-month sentence, of which Brock only served three.

A punishment which Ben thinks is not only totally unacceptable, but also counter-productive in the battle against sexual assault in universities.

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“The way the Brock Turner case was handled sent a terrible message, that there is a different standard of justice for people from different backgrounds. It’s seriously troubling on a lot of different levels,” he said.

But Ben, a University of Texas Law School grad who left a Houston law firm to launch his startup, didn’t create bthere solely to prevent sexual assault.

The app also has more common uses, such as keeping track of mates who have to walk home alone after a night out or even find a mate who’s lost at a festival and running seriously low on battery (we’ve all been there).

Ultimately, he wants it to be used for a simple human reason – we love our mates and we want to make sure that everything is okay.

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bthere was (quietly) released on iTunes in the U.S. on Monday, but Ben is planning to expand to the UK and other countries soon, and hopes that this is merely the beginning of a venture which could revolutionise how we plan social occasions with mates.

Ben concludes by saying: 

My hope is that this is something that would really play a role, even if it’s a small one, in creating a culture on college campuses and beyond in which its easier for friends to be there for real life moments. 99 per cent of the time that’ll be pure fun, and 1 percent of the time will be those moments that we really need each other. But all those moments together are what I want bthere to exist for.

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