How an App is Helping to Tackle Sexual Violence at Oxford University

Monday 02-11-2015 - 16:16

This is an external blog by Eden Tanner. Eden is a 3rd Year DPhil in Physical and Theoretical Chemistry at Oxford University, President of St John’s College MCR, and Student Trustee, former Graduate Women’s Officer and Co-Chair of It Happens Here with Oxford University Student Union.

Oxford, and Oxford University, is not immune to sexual violence happening within its walls. Working with the It Happens Here (IHH) campaign as a part of the Oxford University Student Union, this past year has been a revealing experience. Certainly, there is a problem - only 48 per cent of women who responded to our survey said they felt safe on Oxford’s streets at night, and 69 per cent reported having experienced sexual assault during their time at the University.

As a part of OUSU’s work in responding to this crisis, we train people on how to receive disclosures - to become ‘First Responders’, as we term them. Throughout the trainings, it became clear to myself and Anna Bradshaw (the then Vice President (Women) at OUSU) that the overwhelming volume of information, and the format in which we were giving it (three paper booklets), left people with less-than-ideal access to these resources.

It was a crisp December evening in 2014 as Joy Buolamwini and I sat in a Thai restaurant discussing her plans for her ‘Rhodes Service Year’. As the Founder of Code4Rights, an organisation founded to give women the technological skills necessary to create mobile apps in their communities, Joy wanted to use this year to create something meaningful for Oxford.

In joining forces, we saw the potential to give women in Oxford, who are overrepresented as survivors of sexual violence and underrepresented as creators of technology, the opportunity to learn to code and contribute to a vital resource - the First Response App.

We envisaged the First Response App as a hub containing all of the information a survivor or a supporter might need when considering their options following an incident of sexual violence. In an effort to engage with the work already being done in Oxford in this area, we also partnered with Oxfordshire Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre (OSARCC) to add their 35 years of expertise to the project. We also made a successful application to the Oxford University IT Innovation fund, which helped to cover workshop facilitation, technical development, and app store deployment.

What followed was a series of workshops. Firstly, as a part of IHH’s ‘Anti-Violence Valentine’s’ conference, held on 14 February 2015, we held a brainstorm workshop, to consult on content with the people in our community working on sexual violence. Following this, a series of coding workshops and feedback workshops were held, where Joy held engaging sessions on coding (in CSS, HTML, and jQuery Mobile) basics, before getting each participant to try their hand at coding pages of the First Response App.

As someone with no prior coding experience, I found the coding workshop exceptional - accessible, non-intimidating, and I felt I could really contribute something meaningful to the project. Each student-created page of the app has a love heart on the top right hand side of the page with a message from the woman who coded that page.

In launching the app, I have spoken to many survivors who are overjoyed that this now exists. One of the most significant features is the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section, which seeks to reaffirm survivors and guide supporters who aren’t quite sure how to best help their friend or family member.

The First Response App not only brought together a diverse group of women and equipped them with coding skills, but it also provided a timely, accessible, and confidential means of locating resources for the survivors and supporters in Oxford. Our goal is to have every person living in Oxford - not just those who are involved with the university - have access to this resource. It’s critical that survivors know the wealth of resources available to them, and that supporters are well equipped to signpost people.

Sexual violence happens in Oxford - in our colleges, on our streets, in our rooms - but this project has given me confidence that here is where we join forces as a community to end it.

Learn more about the First Resonse App at


Features, Women

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