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Expanding Reporting Options for College Students

posted Dec 29, 2015, 7:20 AM by Brendan Davidson - CDPS   [ updated Dec 31, 2015, 8:01 AM ]
With the expansion of innovative technologies and an increased utilization of electronic forms of communication over face to face interactions, colleges and universities are looking to expand reporting options for victims of sexual assault. These options include an online resource that allows for electronic and anonymous reporting, a perpetrator matching service, and education around sexual assault as well as local resources. The website is called Callisto and it was developed by a non-profit agency out of San Francisco, Sexual Health Innovations (Singer, 2015). 

    The Callisto system allows students who have been victimized to record the occurrence on a safe and protected site and then gives them the option of saving the data for a later date or using it for a formal report. If you choose to save the recorded information for a later date, the details are time stamped and students can come back and either download the information to bring into the police or they can connect the report to their student email address and report it to their school electronically. There is a demo option on the site that guides you through the website resources and explains the different processes. 

    One unique feature Callisto provides is a matching option if you know the identity of the offender. The matching feature uses distinctive identifiers such as the perpetrator’s Facebook URL and notifies a student if the perpetrator has been recorded in a previous report. Singer (2015) noted that the matching option might help reassure victims that they are not alone in their victimization and the perpetrator is no longer an individual risk but rather a community risk. This can be especially significant when we look at how many sexual assaults are committed by individuals who are serial offenders. The website did note that the matching mechanism is not 100% accurate and may simply indicate that another person has entered similar information.

    Callisto is an innovative approach to sexual assault reporting. It is only offered to a limited number of colleges and universities at this time however. Like most programs in their beginning stages, there are some points of concern. Singer (2015) pointed out the potential for victims to postpone reporting in hopes they will “match up” with another reporting victim. Postponing a report could put other students at risk. There is also concern about the perpetrator identifiers used such as Facebook links. This might expose the victim to the perpetrators Facebook page and possible friends they have in common inducing further stress and anxiety. 
The development of the Callisto website highlights a significant issue in reporting sexual assault, the fear of reporting in person. A quote from a sexual assault survivor used on the website states, “It was hard to imagine coming forward in an immediately public way, but to start by chronicling what had occurred would have been a helpful and important first step”. According to the New York Time article, the non-profits founder, Jessica Ladd, developed the idea for Callisto after experiencing the reporting process first hand. Jessica noted in her experience that reporting in person can be “disempowering and traumatizing”. Although this online resource may help mitigate the problems associated with reporting in person, it highlights both the perceived and real stigma victims feel after being sexually assaulted.  According to Singer (2015) students reported concerns including a lack of confidence that what they experienced was a sexual assault, fear that people will not believe them, or negative social consequences. So, in addition to finding a way to navigate around these negative fears and experiences, there should be an additional parallel focus on eliminating them. 

    First responders and professionals gathering information on a possible assault should be trained and educated on insecurities that follow a traumatic event. By promoting education and sensitivity training with first responders, we can reduce the fears associated with in person reporting and empower victims to take immediate action should they choose to do so. Individuals who have been victimized should be free to ask questions without the fear of consequences, judgment, or stigmatization. Progress has been made on this front, through programs such as “You Have Options,” but for some individuals Callisto helps bridge the gap of reporting in person without fear of further trauma by providing a safe and secure method for students to anonymously report in a way that best fits their needs. However, this should be an evolutionary step forward, not the end goal. The end goal should encompass a world in which victims of sexual assault live free from stigmatization and feel empowered to report any sexual assault.

Author: Stacey McCllelan
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