haven app

U of T students come up with solution to help prevent sexual assaults on campus

As students return to campus this fall amid disturbing reports of sexual assaults at Western University, two Toronto computer engineer students hope they make university life safer.

University of Toronto students Nelson Lee and Ethan Hugh designed an app called Haven this summer in an effort to help prevent sexual assaults on university campuses. 

"So we came up with the idea of Haven after a friend of mine shared her sexual assault story with me," Lee tells blogTO.

"And I was really struck by that because as someone growing up in a family of boys in an education system that didn't really teach a lot about this issue, I was shocked to see that around 63 per cent of university students have experienced sexual assault or harassment before on campus."

He thought of a few different ideas to help — such as a legal fund for survivors to get justice through the legal system.

But as computer science majors, an app was something they could create and it is "more proactive, and allows people to really be safe in the moment."

The free app is a kind of "Swiss Army Knife" that allows a student to connect quickly with people when they feel unsafe or need help "with the click of a button."

Users can tap on the app when they are at risk of danger, and their loved ones will know their status and location in under five seconds.

People add loved ones contacts, known as "Angels," in-app so they don't have to scroll down a contact list in an emergency. There is also a kind of 'text me when you get home' feature with a destination timer that will automatically tell loved ones that you got home safely.

The app also has a script for people calling 911 so they can provide location, status, phone number to emergency operators.

Hugh and Lee created the app with help from the University of Toronto business startup incubator. They worked with campus police, sexual assault crisis centres and safety experts to develop the idea. Lee says they wanted "to ensure that what we're doing is actually like expert-approved and we're actually making a positive impact."

This was their first time making an app and starting a business.

Since the app was launched about a week ago, they have had more than 1,000 downloads.

"That has just been amazing."

The app is available across Canada and the United States.

Lead photo by

Karen Longwell

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