News / Ottawa

Ottawa doctor develops app to help combat sexual assault at festivals

Kari Sampsel notes that over 25 per cent of reported cases of sexual assault happen around New Year's celebrations, Canada Day, university frosh weeks, various summer festivals or Halloween.

edical director of sexual assault and partner abuse care program at the Ottawa Hospital.

Justin Tang / Metro Order this photo

edical director of sexual assault and partner abuse care program at the Ottawa Hospital.

Through her research, Kari Sampsel has long known many cases of sexual assaults tend to happen at parties and festivals. Now she's trying to help increase safety at such events.

The medical director of sexual assault and partner abuse care program at the Ottawa Hospital has partnered with students from applied research and innovation at Algonquin College to create NightLight, an app that will help people at large gatherings to easily find their friends or seek help.

"It's a perfect storm really. Large crowds tend to be a place to use predatory behaviours," she said, noting over 25 per cent of reported cases of sexual assault happen around New Year's celebrations, Canada Day, university frosh weeks, various summer festivals or Halloween.

She said in addition to the use of alcohol or other drugs, such places tend to have "lots of dark corners or anonymity" that make it easy for people to grope or assault someone and get away with it.

NightLight would have two levels of security, Sampsel explained. It would work as an SMS type of function, where a user can send a message that pops up with a GPS location, making it easier for friends to find each other in a sea of people.

The other part has a notification function through which someone in real trouble can alert security and they can easily find the person within the crowd. This function will even have a selfie option, on top of the GPS locator.

"We just wanted to put some control back into the hands of potential victims," said Sampsel.

She and her group plan to approach major festivals and concerts organizers to discuss their safety plans and introduce the app to their clients. It's expected to be fully functional by next summer.

At a time when the #MeToo campaign has brought the issues of sexual harassment into spotlight, Sampsel said it is important to equip people with tools to make them feel safe and able to easily seek help when they need to.

"This was something that people suffered in silence with, something that was shameful and people didn't disclose," she said. "The idea to prevent sexual assault from happening, or to connect people to the right resources for recovery, is of paramount importance."

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