New App Aims to Help Sexual Assault Survivors

Erin Delmore, NJTV News

Thanks to a new app, victims of sexual assault can speak up without saying a word.

“Well when you tap the button, it gives you a number of steps on how to report. If you were sexually assaulted one of them would help you identify diffrent resources that could help you. If you wanted to come and speak to someone at our hotline program it will hook your right into our hotline. If you are in an experience someplace where you are feeling unsafe and would like some support you can program in individuals names and send something to them like, ‘I need help’, ‘come and get me,'” said YWCA Bergen County CEO Helen Archontou.

The smartphone app from healingSPACE, the Bergen County YWCA’s sexual violence resource center, is the first of its kind in the state — and it’s free. Advocates say it will connect survivors with physical and mental health services, confidentially, at all hours.

“Technology is really the first language for many young people, so to put it at their fingertips and give them the opportunity to know what’s available, to ask certain questions that perhaps they might have been, perhaps embarrassed to ask, or don’t want to do it in person, and find out what’s available and to help them seek those resources is a wonderful thing,” said Demetra Maurice, chief assistant prosecutor for the Special Victims Unit at the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office.

The app helps link victims with law enforcement. Acting Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal spoke out in favor of it. His office is focused on evidence collection.

“You have a more immediate contact with law enforcement and in these types of incidents, and criminal investigations, immediacy is important. So it’s important to be able to collect evidence in a timely fashion to enable us to prosecute and to present that evidence in court,” Grewal said.

HealingSPACE works with 300 to 500 people every year, and that’s just in Bergen County. The call center in this county gets 500 to 600 calls every year. They expect that number to go up.

The most recent data issued by the State Police shows that while overall crime is down, sexual assault — including rape — is on the rise.

“More people are coming forward. I don’t know if that means that crime is up, or rather more people feel empowered to come forward and report what has happened to them,” Maurice said.

“I think what we need, all around, is a comprehensive education program. A, not for the women, but mainly for the young men to understand that we need to eradicate, that this is not the norm,” Assemblyman Valerie Vanieri Huttle said.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and public officials and health advocates hope the launch of this app, and events this month, encourage people to bring this under-reported issue out of the shadows.