You hear stories about girls being abducted; you never think it could happen to you until it does.
On January 23, 2019, that is exactly what happened to a 23-year-old woman was abducted outside Hennessy Bar located in Boston, Mass. Olivia Ambrose was out with her sister and her friends on a Saturday night at a bar near Faneuil Hall. According to an article in The Boston Globe, Ambrose was seen leaving Hennessy Bar at 11:04 p.m. on that fateful Saturday with a man who police say is not involved in her disappearance. About 40 minutes later, two men appear to be inviting Ambrose to walk with them in the area of Congress Street and State Street. Early Sunday morning, Ambrose is seen by the MBTA camera exiting the Bunker Hill Community Station in Charlestown with one of the men from the night before. Ambrose’s family reported her missing at 5:20 p.m. The local authorities were able to locate Ambrose by using the GPS on her cell phone and she was found alive in Charlestown on Tuesday, January 26.
Abduction and sexual assault are an all-too-real possibility for young women, especially at night when it is dark. While Ambrose was not on a college campus when she was taken, she is around the age when many people are in college. The University of New Hampshire (UNH) offers programs that help students be more aware of the ways they can be more prepared for the unthinkable. UNH Prevention Innovations Research Center created the uSafeUS app that provides students with tools they can use when they are in an uncomfortable or potentially dangerous situation. The app allows users to discreetly contact friends, family and local authorities to help them and get home safely.
Sharyn Potter, co-founder, and Executive Director of Research at Prevention Innovations Research Center and professor of sociology helped develop the uSafeUS (originally named uSafeNH) app along with a retired State Trooper who now leads New Hampshire’s Sexual Assault Resource Team (SART) in March of 2015.
“In 2017, the app and platform were updated with a new student-influenced design and innovative prevention tools, to launch as uSafeUS to a national audience. Then in 2018, a new Administrator Dashboard, providing analytics about app usage, the ability to send notifications to students, and easier customization capabilities, was added for school administrators,” Potter said.
The uSafeUS app is free to all students and can be found on both the App Store and Google Play.
Technology has many perks to it, such as being able to locate a missing person, however, according to Zachary Ahmad-Kahloon, Prevention Specialist for the UNH Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP), it can also be used for negative purposes such as stalking.
“I can’t comment if the technical aspects of location tracking are accurate or not as I’m not an engineer. However, I do know abusers have certainly used it as a means of stalking without ever having to actually follow anyone,” says Ahmad-Kahloon.
UNH’S SHARPP is a resource for students who have been victims of sexual assault/harassment and domestic violence to help them recover and have a safe space to talk.
According to the Campus Safety and Security Government website, it was reported that in 2016, there were 19 counts of rape, six counts of fondling, four counts of aggravated assault, and three counts of burglary on the UNH Durham campus. While these statistics are not under the category of abduction, a lot of cases involving rape or sexual harassment can stem from stalking and abduction.
When talking to a student about her nightly activities, Seanna Perry stated that she does not feel safe when walking on campus at night.
“Being a person of color, I don’t feel safe in a mostly all-white environment. It has been instilled in me to never trust anyone in the dark,” Perry said.
A person of color is statistically more likely to be a victim of sexual assault/harassment or abduction, but by being alone at night puts any woman at a higher risk of being assaulted. The UNH Chief of Police, Paul Dean, encourages students to speak up when they see something or someone who appears to be in danger or an uncomfortable situation.
“Good personal safety is important. Let friends know where you’re going and your plans. If at all possible, go with friends and watch out for each other. Additionally, UNH has the safe rides service on the weekends to help get you home safe. Listen to your own inner thoughts. If you are not feeling comfortable where you are its time to leave,” Dean said.