As thousands take to the streets this weekend for women’s marches across the country, leaders of the Sacramento-based “We Said Enough” campaign are unveiling a tech app to help victims of sexual harassment report workplace abuse across the nation, no matter their location or industry.
The nonprofit organized by a group of lobbyists and legislative staffers became a powerful force last year, spurring nearly 150 women to denounce what they call a culture of sexual harassment within the state Capitol community. The movement has since led to an overhaul of policies within the California Legislature and to the resignation of two members of the state Assembly after multiple women came forward with harassment and misconduct allegations.
We Said Enough leaders like lobbyist Samantha Corbin say they want to pivot from awareness to action.
“I had been inundated with phone calls and victims wanting to talk, with people asking us: ‘What is next?’” she said. “We were feeling a strong and moral obligation to do something and to do something right, not just for our political community but for victims and survivors all over.”
Several smartphone apps have risen in popularity in the aftermath of the allegations made against Hollywood studio executive Harvey Weinstein to help women report abuse, build a sense of community and pressure employers and university leaders to investigate claims. But some of the apps disclose the identity of an alleged abuser to all users, or have anonymous reporting features that could allow for false reports.
Members of We Said Enough say their app was built with federal defamation laws in mind. An accused person’s identity would not be revealed to others. But if a person’s name appears frequently or at a certain level, that could trigger a disclosure to an employer.
The technology is based on another smartphone app called Bridg-it, which allows students to report bullying in confidence and without having to visit the principal’s office.
Corbin and Jeff Ervine, founder and president of Bridg-it, have worked together on prior tech legislation in Sacramento. They enlisted a team of developers and engineers, most of them women, to expand the platform to sexual harassment.
Like Bridg-it, the new app uses a Netflix-like design that allows victims and witnesses to create a confidential profile; generate encrypted, time-stamped complaints, including photos, recordings and videos; and search appropriate trauma and abuse services in their area.
A user can choose to keep a report secret or print or email it to share with police or a human resources department. Future versions of the app will allow users to make their complaints directly available to a school or employer — if that human resources department also has adopted the app.
It’s in the early testing stages and available online, with a capacity to handle up to 10 million users. It is expected in Android and Apple stores in late February.
Among the challenges the group faces is funding. The group needs $1.5 million for up to 10 consultants and staff members, including data analysts and engineers, and other expenses such as travel costs. Another is building trust with employers in the same Capitol community that’s still processing the long-term impact of recent allegations. We Said Enough leaders hope that if enough users sign up to use the app, it will encourage city offices, state governments and other institutions to opt in.
Corbin, Ervine and other We Said Enough members already have begun to make their pitches, meeting with city and state government officials in California and other states, including Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Florida. They also plan to meet with lobbying firms, nonprofits and other businesses in the private sector.
At a recent meeting at the Capitol, they pitched the idea to Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and a group of state lawmakers. Steinberg said he was impressed and interested in bringing it to the city, but wanted to explore other options in the field before making a decision.
“The concept of using technology to make the process safer and easier for victims to come forward is right on,” the mayor said.
In four years, Bridg-it has expanded to 51 schools, including two in Los Angeles. At one New York school, according to his data, the population has grown by 30% in the past three years while the incidents per student have decreased by 60%.