Break the Cycle: Apps to Help Abused Women

Video footage from inside the elevator where former Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice allegedly attacked his then-fiancée is just the latest high-profile headline that some say highlights a culture of violence toward women. Rice was fired from the Ravens today (Sept. 8) after the video came to light, but is his termination going to stop someone else from punching their significant other? In short, no. 

In the United States, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That's more than 12 million women and men over the course of one year. Believe it or not, the numbers get worse. The CDC also says 25 percent of women age 18 and older in the U.S. have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. That's enough to make my stomach turn, and my adrenaline to start pumping. 

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It would be foolish to think that technology is the answer to all the ills of this world. But the right technology can help. Apps can be an incredibly useful way to help victims of violence.

Here are six apps worth checking out, but note that none should replace actual emergency services. If you're in danger, please dial 911 immediately. 

1. GWEN Alert (Free; Android, iOS)

From the non-profit organization Global Women's Empowerment Network, the GWEN Alert app can alert your five closest friends to trouble with a single tap. When touched, an emergency SMS containing your GPS location is sent to them. Hopefully, those contacts can then give you support, stop the violence or offer a way out of your situation. You can also use the app to call pre-programmed national hotlines or a location emergency number of your choice. We also liked that the app offers up empowering quotes and inspiring music.

2. Aspire News (Free; Android, iOS)

The Aspire News app from the When Georgia Smiled: Robin McGraw Foundation looks like it's just a regular old news reader. If a jealous or controlling partner were checking your phone, he or she would be none the wiser. In reality, the Aspire News app does contain Yahoo headlines. But in the Help section, you'll find tons of resources for victims of domestic violence, such as quizzes to determine if your relationship is abusive and suggested steps for getting out of a bad situation. If you're reading a news story and feel unsafe for any reason, simply tapping the top of the screen three times will alert your preset group of trusted contacts.

3. Wickr (Free; Android, iOS

Wickr is not purely an app for victims of domestic violence, but it can help those who find themselves in a bad place. Wickr is a top-secret messenger that enables private and easily erasable communications. If you've been cut off from family and friends by an overly dominant partner, Wickr puts you in control of who sees what, where and for how long. The messages are encrypted, can be sent anonymously and self-destruct after a preset period of time.

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4. bSafe (Free; Android, iOS)

Simply a smart app for anyone living alone to have on a smartphone, bSafe allows you to set up a personal safety net made up of friends, family or even co-workers. You can easily share your location with others, ask friends to come walk you home or program a trigger to send an alarm if you don't check in at a set time. I love that you can have the app make a fake call to yourself if you need to get out of a bad conversation. If you're in real trouble, the Guardian Alert button will send an alert to your contacts.

5. One Love My Plan (Free; Android, iOS)

From inside an abusive relationship, it can be hard to see the forest for the trees. One Love My Plan can help you take a step back and determine whether or not your relationship is good and safe, and then inspire you to seek help if it's not. The One Love Foundation created My Plan specifically for college-age women, and friends who love them, to create an action plan based on the results of the app's danger-assessment quiz. It also offers 24/7 support through a live-chat function.

6. Circle of 6 (Free; Android, iOS)

As winner of the White House's Apps Against Abuse challenge and the Avon Foundation for Women's Ending Violence @ Home contest, the Circle of 6 app has a lot to live up to. This personal safety app's name would seem to imply you need six friends, but one is enough.

The idea is that your friends can be automatically sent a pre-programmed SMS alert with your exact location via two taps to your phone, or it can call pre-programmed national hotlines. You can also have friends call you to help you get out of a dangerous situation. The app also offers a ton of good info about what makes for a healthy relationship.

Follow Anna Attkisson @akattkisson.  Follow us @TomsGuide, on Facebook and on Google+.

Anna Attkisson
Anna Attkisson is the editorial director at Tom's IT Pro. After getting infected with the tech bug at Wireless World and Cellular Business magazines as an intern in 1998, Anna Attkisson went on to dabble in a sorts of publications covering everything from children’s fashion to cars. During the last 9 years she’s returned to her roots where she’s been writing and editing for Laptop Mag and Tom’s Guide, before moving on to Tom’s IT Pro. Follow Anna Attkisson at @akattkisson.