I love the idea of using technology to solve cultural problems. I love the idea of an app that makes social change. But I have a problem with Circle of Six, which won the White House’s “Apps Against Abuse” contest earlier this year.

Circle of Six is an app designed to let women reach out to their trusted friends (their “circle of six”) with only a couple of taps. It’s a great idea, at least on the surface. But I was bothered by a single line running along the bottom of every page on their site:

“Take the Facebook pledge: ‘I won’t let violence happen in my circle.'”

That sentence gave me the shivers. It’s one step back from victim-blaming. It feels like victim’s-friend-blaming.

It puts the onus on women to prevent rape.

Now, victim-blaming is a tricky thing. On the one hand, there’s this idea that rapists should be the ones responsible (well, duh!). But on the other, there’s a practical concern: Can a more consistent connection to your circle prevent rape? Maybe. I don’t know. (Though I’ll admit that, as a college student, it’s hard to imagine any of my friends using this app.)

I might be more open to the ideas behind Circle of Six if there weren’t better alternatives. But there are “hacks” which put the burden on the perpetrators instead. One of my favorites is the “Red/Yellow Card Project,” which encourages women (and men!) to give red and yellow cards to men (and women!) who behave inappropriately. Wonderfully, there’s also a green card to give people props for good behavior. It’s completely analog right now, but I can also imagine ways in which it could be digitized.

The great thing about the Red/Yellow Card Project is that it holds people responsible for their actions. The only people held accountable by Circle of Six are… friends. This is not how it should be.

The team behind Circle of Six is obviously thoughtful and accomplished. In fact, one of the developers wrote that, “The most important thing for us was to provide a useful tool that doesn’t victim blame.” And they may be taking a more pragmatic approach than the Red/Yellow Card Project. But Circle of Six’s pledge still makes me feel icky inside.

Still, that might just be me. Circle of Six has received a fair amount of positive attention. So tell me, in the comments or on Twitter: How do you feel about Circle of Six? Is it victim blaming, or is it a smart preventative measure?

[Note: Earlier I said that this app was released “recently;” it was actually released early this year. This is not news.]

I’m Tess Rinearson, a sophomore computer science student at Carnegie Mellon University. I’m a full-time feminist and a part-time idealist. I blog about tech and women, sometimes at the same time. If you liked this post, or maybe even if you didn’t, you may want to follow me on Twitter.



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