New App to Help Victims of Domestic Violence

The Sojourner Peace app provides resources for victims of domestic abuse in a quick and discreet way.

by Ashley Luthern, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / March 13, 2015

(Tribune News Service) -- For people looking to leave an abusive relationship, navigating police, court and advocate services can be overwhelming.

Who should they call for help? How do they stay safe? Where should they go for shelter? What about their kids?

Now, there's an app for that.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's App Brewery and the Sojourner Family Peace Center released the Sojourner Peace app on Thursday. The app, available for free from Apple iTunes or Google Play, provides resources for victims of domestic abuse in a quick and discreet way.

"There's a lot of information that you might need to know, as well as contacts," said Carmen Pitre, Sojourner's executive director. "You'd have to know about safety, about all of the systems that might be impacting your life as a victim of domestic violence."

The app provides a comprehensive list of victim-advocate and legal services, nonemergency law enforcement phone numbers for every agency in Milwaukee County and many other contacts that have easy-to-use markers to make a call immediately.

But the app does not replace 911 in cases of emergency, Pitre said.

Garada, a domestic violence survivor and former Sojourner client, urged others to download the app during a news conference on Thursday.

"I wish this app was actually here when I was going through my problems that I had," she said. "This app gives direct links to shelter and 24-hour hotlines."

"Bottom line: don't suffer alone, don't wait until it's too late," said Garada, who asked that her last name not be used. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel typically does not identify victims of domestic violence.

The app also is useful for those who want to help family or friends get out of an abusive relationship, Milwaukee police Capt. James Shepard said. Victims of domestic violence are more likely to tell their friends, rather than police, about the situation, he said.

The app is the result of two years of collaboration between Sojourner and the App Brewery, which employs UWM students to create apps to help local start-ups, researchers, nonprofits and government. The App Brewery is located in a former beer storage building in the redeveloped Pabst Brewing complex, which also is home to UWM's Zilber School of Public Health.

"We can be stronger and smarter in our solutions that work across sectors, across ZIP codes, across disciplines, across great ideas to make us a whole again as a community," said Magda G. Peck, professor and founding dean of the Zilber School.

The app, she said, follows in the tradition of the Wisconsin Idea, the guiding principal of the state's universities for more than a century. Last month, a firestorm of controversy erupted when language in Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposed scrapping the idea and making the system's mission to meet the state's workforce needs.

"UWM exists to embody the Wisconsin Idea," Peck said. "It's not only a commitment to community, it is our reason for making a difference right where we are as an urban-serving university."

Local leaders at the app's launch also responded to proposals at the state level to cut $300 million from the UW system and to eliminate the 48-hour waiting period to purchase handguns.

"Here we've got a great university, a crucial one, and one, by the way, that deserves every dime that we can keep in the state budget for it," Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett lauded the app as a "progressive" idea and expressed concern about what he described as a "regressive" proposal from state lawmakers to eliminate the handgun waiting period. "I really believe (the waiting period) has its greatest impact in the area of domestic violence, in particular slowing men down, angry men, from purchasing guns when they are...in a hostile situation with their spouse," he said.

©2015 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC