The War on Campus Sexual Assault Goes Digital

As the problem of sexual assault on college campuses has become a hot-button issue for school administrators and federal education regulators, one question keeps coming up: Why don’t more students report attacks?

According to a recent study of 27 schools, about one-quarter of female undergraduates and students who identified as queer or transgender said they had experienced nonconsensual sex or touching since entering college, but most of the students said they did not report it to school officials or support services.

Some felt the incidents weren’t serious enough. Others said they did not think anyone would believe them or they feared negative social consequences. Some felt it would be too emotionally difficult.

Now, in an effort to give students additional options — and to provide schools with more concrete data — a nonprofit software start-up in San Francisco called Sexual Health Innovations has developed an online reporting system for campus sexual violence.

Students at participating colleges can use its site, called Callisto, to record details of an assault anonymously. The site saves and time-stamps those records. That allows students to decide later whether they want to formally file reports with their schools — identifying themselves by their school-issued email addresses — or download their information and take it directly to the police. The site also offers a matching system in which a user can elect to file a report with the school electronically only if someone else names the same assailant.

Callisto’s hypothesis is that some college students — who already socialize, study and shop online — will be more likely initially to document a sexual assault on a third-party site than to report it to school officials on the phone or in person.

“If you have to walk into a building to report, you can only go at certain times of day and you’re not certain who you have to talk to, how many people you have to talk to, what they will ask,” Jessica Ladd, the nonprofit’s founder and chief executive, said in a recent interview in New York. “Whereas online, you can fill out a form at any time of day or night from anywhere and push a button.”

Callisto is part of a wave of apps and sites that tackle different facets of the sexual assault problem on campus. Some colleges and universities have introduced third-party mobile apps that enable students to see maps of local crime hot spots, report suspicious activity, request a ride from campus security services or allow their friends to track their movements virtually as they walk home. Many schools now ask students to participate in online or in-person training programs that present different situations involving sexual assault, relationship violence and issues of consent…..(More)”