NORFOLK -- Updates to the Navy's LiveSafe mobile safety application include a tip button that allows sailors to anonymously report social media harassment and bullying.
The service is nearly six months into a program to pilot the app. Capt. Charles Marks, U.S. Fleet Forces Command's sexual assault prevention and response officer, said one of its most frequently used services is SafeWalk, a virtual escort that allows users to designate contacts to follow them as they travel. But the Navy faces a challenge with trying to convince sailors that the service is not using the app to track them, Marks said.
"Because it's a Navy-provided thing, there's suspicion that we're trying to get something other than trying to help the sailors out," Marks said. He added that the Navy will work with commands, chaplains and others, including chapters of the peer-mentoring group Coalition of Sailors Against Destructive Decisions, to find advocates.
The Navy spent $150,000 for development and use of the app for a year in Hampton Roads and Rota, Spain. It is targeted toward junior sailors and intended to combat destructive behaviors while also providing resources, including counseling services, off-limits locations and suicide prevention. Marks would not provide details on the number of users, but said most are sailors in the 18-25 age group and are about evenly split between men and women.
The Navy has updated the app's features following rounds of focus groups that included users and non-users, and will continue exploring uses, Marks said. New offerings include an updated taxi feature that allows users to call services cleared to drive on base, bus schedules and opportunities to announce and sign up for volunteer events, he said. It also will feature Navy-specific information regarding questions about changes to the service's transgender resources as well as on improper online conduct in the wake of the Marines United nude-photo-sharing scandal.
"What we're trying to do is connect with sailors in their free time away from the workplace and put resources in their hands that they can make use of," he said.
The Navy has received few tips via the app reporting criminal behavior, Marks said, adding that the pilot period is a phase for the service to test how it may be used.
Several local universities, including Old Dominion, Hampton and Norfolk State, also are listed among the app's users. SafeWalk has been among the most popular features of LiveSafe, President and CEO Carolyn Parent said.
The free app is available for download for Apple and Android devices.