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Harassment Hotlines Don't Work. Will Apps?

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StopIt, which works like a messaging app, lets victims and witnesses anonymously report harassment and include evidence such as screenshots or video and lets administrators respond and ask for details. Unlike many hotlines, it doesn't route claims first through a third party; instead, it gives an employer's HR department access to information as soon as it gets reported, in real time.

At least on an anonymous app such as StopIt, victims don't have to worry that their voice might be identified, reducing the chance they might be retaliated against for speaking up. Messages go straight to HR, and evidence is cataloged for future reference. Since multiple HR employees receive the reports, their handling is less subjective, and there's a smaller chance that a report might dead-end with a single HR worker. "The HR department is accountable to do something; they can't put their heads in the sand," said Todd Schobel, StopIt's founder and CEO. "One person can't put the kibosh on something."

"It is instant," said Schobel. "You send the evidence over, and the investigation begins." Currently, more than 6,000 kindergarten through 12th-grade schools use the app. In schools, students can take screenshots of cyberbullying and make anonymous reports to select administrators who have access to the app. Schobel said that Ihop, Applebee's, four other fast-casual restaurant chains he declined to name, and a fast-food chain have all also expressed interest. (The fast-food industry has high rates of sexual harassment.)

And despite the unpopularity of the hotline, there's clearly an appetite in offices for the kind of anonymity that they and StopIt can offer. Just look at Google, where more than 15,000 employees have reportedly subscribed to an emailed digest of anonymously submitted complaints of harassment and bias.

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