​A new platform for survivors to report sexual assault

A year after Rolling Stone, the University should provide better options for survivors to report sexual assault

Today marks the one-year anniversary of “A Rape on Campus,” the now-debunked article by Sabrina Rubin Erdely claiming several members of Phi Kappa Psi gang raped a woman named Jackie. The article generated continuing discussion pertaining to sexual assault on Grounds, with the issue of low reporting rates remaining a focal point. Per a recent Association of American Universities study of 27 schools, about one in four female undergraduates at the University said they had experienced nonconsensual sex or touching since entering college. A majority of those students said that they did not report instances of sexual assault to school officials or support services.

The disparity between the staggering number of female students who experience sexual assault and those who report those assaults results in part from the emotional difficulty of reporting. Sexual Health Innovations, a nonprofit software startup, has developed a digital reporting system for sexual assault survivors to detail their assaults. The online platform known as Callisto saves and time-stamps the report in case survivors decide later on that they would like to provide the information to their school or police. By providing a way for survivors to create a written report immediately after an assault, Callisto presents an effective solution to the sexual assault reporting gap.

Right now, only Pomona College and the University of San Francisco are testing Callisto. U.Va. has invested heavily in student safety over the past year through initiatives such as the Ambassadors program and through modifying our sexual misconduct policy. Administrators should consider adopting Callisto or creating an internal reporting system so survivors at this school will have a better avenue through which they can report an assault.

Current procedures for reporting a sexual assault can be difficult for survivors. Walking into a building open only at certain hours with the uncertainty of who will be there or what they will ask may discourage survivors from reporting, according to Jessica Ladd, the nonprofit’s founder and chief executive. Callisto removes human interaction from the process of reporting an assault. For many, verbally discussing a sexual assault with another person can be traumatizing. An online reporting system also offers the benefit of being very accessible. If University students were to have negative experiences reporting assaults to our school’s administration, then others may be discouraged from reporting. It would be much easier for survivors to record an assault through a program such as Callisto given its digital reach and limited uncertainty compared to an in-person report with a school official.

Even if survivors ultimately decide not to share their information with school officials or police, Callisto plans to share aggregated data with school administrators. This will allow administrators to discern patterns that would assist in sexual assault prevention efforts. At the University, if such data were collected, it would improve our own prevention efforts by informing us of when, where and under what conditions these assaults occur. Certainly, there are issues inherent to an online reporting system, including a higher likelihood of false reporting; however, the benefits of such a system outweigh the potential for a small number of false reports. Thus, an online sexual assault reporting platform serves not just as a way for survivors to record assaults immediately after they occur, but as a way to analyze trends associated with sexual assault. Such information could be vital to sexual assault prevention efforts on Grounds and at other universities.

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