It’s one of the first words that comes to mind when students think of walking the streets of San Luis Obispo after sunset.
Current Solutions co-founders and Cal Poly students Maxwell Fong and Elan Timmons want to change that.
What is Current Solutions?
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in four women are sexually assaulted during their college career. Current Solutions is an online platform that aims to shed light on the issues of sexual assault, dating and domestic violence by sharing stories of survivors and providing a platform for them to connect with others.
“We actually started talking to our friends and we were like wait, ‘You’re scared when you walk home at night, what’?” industrial technology senior Elan Timmons said.
It was this surprise that led to action.
“Those were pretty big eye openers for us and we wanted everyone to recognize that these were issues,” Timmons said. “At the same time, we don’t feel like this should only be an issue for survivors.”
The first action Fong and Timmons took was to post a story from kinesiology senior Nicole Huffman that was shared with them through social media.
“We posted her story not expecting much from it, but we woke up the next morning with 100 likes and three stories in our inbox of people sharing their stories for the first time,” business administration senior Fong said.
After collecting stories from other survivors, Fong and Timmons realized that people don’t feel as safe in San Luis Obispo as they thought.
“Just from collecting stories we’ve uncovered people don’t really feel as safe as people make San Luis Obispo to seem like,” Fong said. “I think relatively San Luis Obispo is pretty good, which is what we thought at the beginning,”
Current Solutions went viral last summer after being featured on websites such as New York Times, Buzzfeed and Huffington Post for their collaboration with Yana Mazurkevich on her photo series “It Happens.” The series, which was a response to former Stanford student Brock Turner’s release from jail, is intended to depict Turner’s victim after she was assaulted by him.
That’s when the boom came.
Collecting survivors’ stories
Cities such as San Luis Obispo, which was once first in viewership on the site, became quickly overshadowed as the site reached places such as India, Germany and Japan.
Liberal studies sophomore Megan Knudsen had her story published on Current Solutions in September 2016 after she created her own photo series last summer. Knudsen said that the campaign was an important part of her healing process.
“I think just like taking all that power back into my own hands,” Knudsen said. “I knew that my perpetrator was going to see this campaign if I posted it on the Cal Poly page and on Facebook. I wanted him to see it and realize that I wasn’t just that weak girl that he pinned on the bed. I wanted him to understand that I had grown from that experience and I was standing up for myself. So that was very healing to know that he would see it and know that I was talking about him and that other people would see it and give me support rather than him.”
After being published, Knudsen received messages from other survivors, as well as several different colleges asking her to publish her story on their social media accounts.
“I had a lot of girls message me privately and share their story for the first time,” she said. “I had some people share that had only shared with close relatives are friends. Some were really open about it saying ‘great job we’re here for you.’”
Things still aren’t quite the same.
“It has definitely affected the way I live my life now. I’m very open about it and I try really hard to be because it needs to be normalized and it needs to be talked about so that this whole issue can stop because it’s an epidemic. The only way to kind of stop it is to share and keep sharing,” Knudsen said.
Graphic by Monica Roos
Adding an app
“We get a ton of people emailing us, telling us with what they think Solutions should be… ,” Timmons said. “We’re just constantly listening to them and learning what people want and what people think would help.”
Inspired by these messages, Current Solutions developed an app. The app uses different responses to different emergency situations, including: dispatching the police by sending out the user’s GPS location; sending out alerts to local app users in the area; automatically turning on the phone’s video camera, flashlight and audio in order to help identify the assailant; and notifying loved ones if the user deviates too far from their designated route. The responses can be customized by each user.
Video by Savannah Sperry
“The way that it works is that when you first set it up you say what you want to happen in an emergency. It’s based off of what you said,” Timmons said. “So maybe not everyone wants their video camera to automatically start filming or wants the police to come. Maybe they only want the community and their friends and that’s totally fine.”
But for the co-founders it wasn’t a question of how, it was a question of who.
Since neither Fong or Timmons have much experience programming, the company had to reach out to a professional development team to create the app. They found a team of developers who all have daughters in college, so the issue hits close to home.
“There’s a lot that goes in the back end. Especially with an app like this it’s really important not to piece it together all jankily, it’s got to work really well,” Timmons said.
Currently, the app is designed to be accessed after the user unlocks their phone. The team hopes to streamline the process by creating a faster way to access the app down the road.
“It’d be awesome if you can skip all that. Something we’re working on also is developing a case that can go on your phone so when you’re in an emergency you can just push a button on your case that can activate all of that,” Timmons said.
With a release set for fall of 2018, the team is optimistic about the app’s future.
“With the app you don’t have to pull out your pepper spray or look over your shoulder because you’re just holding your phone and it does so much more than pepper spray,” public relations and brand director Hannah Joslin said.
It takes a community
Fong and Timmons hope that the app will inspire both men and women to come together to make a difference.
“After talking with organizations that deal to us on a day to day basis, a huge eye opener for us was that mostly women were talking about this issue and guys aren’t,” Fong said. “When we found that out we were like let’s talk to more guys about this issue, often times they’re the people that need the message the most. We want all guys to go this is actually a huge issue that affects people I know, it affects me, it affects the community as a whole.”
At the end of the day, peace of mind is the team’s ultimate goal.
“We want to give people the freedom to be able to just do what they want whenever they want without having this kind of looming fear over their head constantly,” Fong said.