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The Bright Sky app aims to support domestic violence survivors in Pittsburgh

Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh CEO Nicole Molinaro said the app, which is new to the US thanks to a local partnership, will provide resources while meeting users where they're at.

Bright Sky app. (Courtesy Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh)

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that more than 10 million adults experience domestic violence annually in the US. During the pandemic, domestic violence experts noted that instances of abuse rose, but traditional methods of reaching out for help weren’t always the safest option.

To make resources available to people experiencing domestic violence, the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh and the Vodafone Americas Foundation are bringing the Bright Sky app, a digital resource that connects users to educational information and support close to them, to the United States.

“It’s for anyone regardless of whether or not you’re experiencing domestic violence,” Nicole Molinaro, president and CEO of the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, told Technical.ly. “If you’re concerned that you might be in an abusive relationship or if you’re concerned about somebody who is experiencing domestic violence, the Bright Sky app is for you.”

While an international version of the app was developed in 2018, this US version was made possible by the year-old partnership between the Vodafone Americas Foundation and Women’s Center, with the support of NO MORE, DomesticShelters.org and Pittsburgh’s Aspirant. The foundation’s director, June Sugiyama, explained that a part of why the two organizations were such a good fit is because of the shared desire to support people on a global level.

“As a technology company, we like to think that technology is ubiquitous in that everybody has access,” Sugiyama said of the international-facing Vodafone. “It’s one thing to be able to provide resources for the survivors in Pittsburgh, but it’s another to be able to provide resources in California, Oklahoma and Nevada.”

Users of the Bright Sky app will have the ability to identify the types and signs of domestic violence, assess the safety of their relationship or that of a friend or loved one, and access information about different forms of abuse and how to help a friend that may be affected. (For the safety of its users, its creators asked that not all of the app’s features be described.)

In total, the app will be available to users in 13 countries: the United States, Albania, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Portugal, Romania, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

What we’re hoping is that we’re able to reach survivors, and those who are worried that they might be experiencing abuse — that we’re able to meet them where they are, and able to help them to wherever their next step in their journey is.Nicole Molinaro Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh

Although Bright Sky’s US availability is a recent development, there have been others like it. In 2014, the Pittsburgh women’s center introduced the RUSafe mobile app which was developed by Aspirant, a North Side-based technology consulting company. While Molinaro is glad for the good the RUSafe app did for users in the past, she sees the Bright Sky app as an improvement.

“We were very proud of our RUSafe app, but the Bright Sky app is better,” the CEO said. “The Bright Sky app is a safe, free and easy-to-use app that aims to provide practical support and information on how to respond to domestic violence.”

On Aspirant’s part, Managing Director of App Development and Integration Phil Kossler explained that due to the company’s long-standing relationship with the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, the team was happy to support this project. The app has been customized for users from country to country, but in the case of the US version, it took a team of five technologists from Aspirant to get it up and running.

Kossler believes its strongest features are its educational aspects.

“When you’re in the middle of it, it’s difficult to understand that you’re in danger,” Kossler said. “And not all victims really appreciate the situation that they’re in. So I think it’s the most important thing that the app does, is bring that content into a format that allows individuals to digest it, to understand it, to appreciate the risk that they are in.”

In addition to education, the app provides users with a means to act to improve their own safety. The app can also provide ways for a concerned loved one to support someone in which a concerned loved one can support someone experiencing domestic violence.

“We haven’t broken any new ground from a technology standpoint, but what we have done is hopefully bring technology to bear in an effective way to provide the information to the individuals that need it,” Kossler said.

The app’s formal launch will happen this month as a part of the 67th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, a United Nations-sponsored global meeting seeking to identify challenges to and establish global standards on gender equality and the rights of women and girls. Closer to home, Molinaro said, all parties involved just want the Bright Sky app to help the people who need it.

“What we’re hoping is that we’re able to reach survivors, and those who are worried that they might be experiencing abuse — that we’re able to meet them where they are, and able to help them to wherever their next step in their journey is,” Molinaro said.

The Bright Sky app is available in the Apple Store, on Google Play, and through its own website.

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.

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