Could an app help to prevent sexual and physical assault?
As we become more reliant on the internet to help us with every
aspect of our daily lives, we are also becoming increasingly
dependent on technology to keep us safe.
There are many ways we look to tech for reassurance — relying on
navigation tools such as Google Maps to take us home, taxi apps
like Uber to get a late-night ride, group chats likes Whatsapp to
stay in touch, or location-tracking tools like Find My Friends to
check where friends or family are at any given time.
One new app in this area is Bthere — aimed at those aged 18-22, it
looks to help young people, particularly those at university, avoid
dangerous situations by encouraging them to stay together on a
Bthere was conceptualised by law graduate Ben Johanson, who has
worked with Texas-based design studio Handsome, with the main aim
of reducing sexual assault cases that happen on college campuses in
the US — but the resulting app is a general safety-in-numbers tool,
which could be used by any group of friends to help avoid any kind
of crime or precarious situation.
It has been designed as a hybrid messaging, location-sharing and
rewards app, with the aim of creating an enticing tool that
students will want to use to keep in touch with each
Users sign up and create “circles” with friends, family or
housemates, which can either be permanent or temporary, such as for
a specific night out.
This group then creates a map that shows everyone’s location at any
given time, with an emoji of their choice next to it. It has a
group messaging function, provides status updates on each
individual user such as their phone battery life and current
address, and has a one-tap “come get me” button if someone needs
“It became apparent that knowing where your close friends are and
being able to communicate with them had to be at the core of the
app,” says Brandon Termini, design partner of creative at Handsome.
“Competitor apps on the market favoured either location or chat in
isolation — there wasn’t one that married the two
On top of this, the app “rewards” users for every minute they spend
with people in their circles in real life, in the form of discounts
at local retail and food places.
The app’s maps have been designed to use as little battery as
possible, says Termini, to prevent people’s phone batteries
draining quickly, while users receive notifications if a friend’s
phone drops below 10%. It also tracks the last known location of a
user if their phone does die.
A pin-drop function aims to encourage friends to keep track of each
other throughout the night, and ultimately go to the same places,
described by Termini as a “kind of bar crawl generator”. The
pin-drop comes in the form of a colourful, piñata donkey icon —
which is also the brand’s logo — and users will get rewarded points
if they follow their friends to their tagged locations,
incentivising people to stick together.
“With the core element of Bthere being togetherness and safety in
numbers, we integrated redeemable points for friends for simply
spending time together,” says Termini.
The user interface of the app is colourful, using a bright palette
of pink, cyan, purple and yellow, a range of illustrations and
line-drawn graphic icons for a few, limited menu options. This
includes a little donkey head to place a piñata pin-drop, a camera
to take a photo to post in a group message, a speech bubble to
access messages, and a exclamation mark to notify others for
Termini says that, given its serious and sombre intentions of
preventing sexual and physical assault, the app had to be “visually
pleasing and a comforting experience to use”, and appear more
“nuanced” than purely a crime preventative measure.
While the main demographic is those aged 18-22 at universities
and colleges, the app could be used by any group of friends or
family who want to stay in contact with each other. It is currently
only available to download in the US.
Ultimately, the app has two aims — to keep young people safe but
also to give them a rewarding incentive to spend more time together
in real life, through harnessing the power of digital, says
“While several apps reward users for spending time on the app
itself, this was more about giving points for spending time
together in a physical location,” he says. “The execution was
simple: create a circle of friends, and the more time people spend
together, the more points they get.
“It looks to address the significant public safety issue on
college campuses and was designed to protect students when they’re
most vulnerable. We wanted to create a fun and engaging way for
them to stay connected.”