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By B.L. Ochman

I’m happy about, and grateful, for all the pitches I get as a blogger – even the (many) really dim ones. That’s because every once in a while something lands in my inbox that simultaneously gives me real hope for the future and makes me incredibly disappointed in how absolutely uninspired the vast majority of marketing has become.

That happened recently when I heard from Nancy Schwartzman, co-creator of the Circle of Six iPhone app, which empowers young people to prevent and end sexual violence and abuse by combining GPS technology, anti-violence online resources, and a commitment to support each other. You can see a video demo of the app here.

The Circle of 6 app uses the same GPS technology found in a thousand apps from photo apps to games. But The Circle of 6 uses GPS in a way that goes far beyond the ordinary into a realm of meaning that will outlast the tools and technologies of the moment.

Thousands of young men and women have taken a pledge on Facebook to stop dating violence on their campuses as part of a strategy to raise awareness and transform a culture of bystanders into a culture of accountability.

“Publicly, we ask that everyone take the pledge to stop violence before it happens. Privately, we ask that you look out for each other.” The app was downloaded 8,000 times in the first two days after it was released, and has since been downloaded more than 25,000 times. Her co-creator is Deb Levine of Isis, a mobile tech and health professional.

A message for brands

Talking to Schwartzman made me wonder why marketers and brands aren’t using the tools of social media to play out strategies that actually help people live their lives better, easier, smarter. I hope reading her story will get you wondering the same thing.

Schwartzman told me the Circle of 6 campaign is an extension of her award-winning, autobiographical documentary, The Line which grew out of her own experience of being raped.

What surprises here most in her travels, she told me, “is that there’s still so much isolation and you still think you’re the only one. It’s surprising that it’s still so hard to talk about.” Change, she says, has to be a community issue, where everyone works together to keep each other safe. There are, she says, glimmers of hope, but we have a long way to go to get to a place where sexual violence simply won’t be tolerated.

Education is needed because 85% of sexual assaults are by people known to the victim. “The danger’s not in the bushes,” she says. Social media is the perfect vehicle, because it addresses people where they already are.

Today, Schwartzman is founder and executive director of the non-profit organization, The Line, which uses film, social media advocacy, community building, leadership development and technical support to create critical dialogues around sexuality, relationships, consent and sexual violence at campus and community events and online.

Her campaign is multi-faceted, including workshops, blogging, and support groups. The newest iteration is the app, which, she says, is a natural extension of the conversation that in and around the film.

Schwartzman told me she’s talked to people of all ages who shared their stories about sex, assault, and the lack of education they received. “The conversation was a lot bigger than I imagined,” she said.

Apps Against Abuse
The Circle of 6 app was one of two winners of the Apps Against Abuse challenge launched by Vice President Joseph Biden and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius,in an effort to harness mobile technology to fight sexual abuse.

Circle of 6 asks users to add five contacts to their “circle.” In a threatening or difficult situation, they can tap on an icon to instantly take various steps – either send a message to all five contacts asking them to come get them, to call them, to ask for advice, or to automatically call the Love is Not Abuse hot line.

The reality is that young people may get separated from friends at a party, and they need a way to avoid those hard choices that can end in violence. “We wanted to meet people where they are, in reality, harnessing the technology to benefit young men and women by natural extension.”