Alerting authorities to sexual assaults can frequently stir new distress in survivors; a bit of technology from the nonprofit Sexual Health Innovations (SHI) may help ease the process of reporting these crimes.
The organization developed Callisto, a Web-based system for bringing attention to such assaults on college campuses, and last night demoed it in front of the city’s technology community.
There was a lot to process at Tuesday’s New York Tech Meetup (see slideshow)—from an appearance by Fred Wilson, co-founder of Union Square Ventures, to Techstars NYC-alum Lua resurfacing—but the message that resonated from the stage was about Callisto.
Tracey Vitchers, chief development officer for SHI, said sexual assault can be particularly high on college campuses; moreover, these incidents are committed by repeat offenders in some cases. Despite such disturbing trends, the crimes might not be reported because those who have been victimized may be discouraged from calling attention to what happened. “While 85 percent know their perpetrator, less than 4 percent will ever report their sexual assault to campus authorities or local law enforcement,” she said.
Not knowing where or to whom to report these assaults is one part of the problem, Vitchers said. It can also be intimidating to walk into the office of a campus administrator, often a total stranger, to begin the process of reporting. When those who have endured such attacks do call attention to what happened, they wait on average 11 months to do so, Vitchers said, and may be re-traumatized when they do so. “They’re asked questions they don’t know how to answer, expected to provide evidence they longer have, or in some cases blamed for their sexual assault,” she said.
In August, SHI launched Callisto, an information escrow which stores details that are released when triggered by qualifying events. This includes matching feature that indicates when the same perpetrator has committed another assault. “If another student reports the same assailant, both reports will be submitted to the college campus authorities,” Vitchers said.
Many times sexual assault survivors do not know if they should come forward, she said, but would prefer to file a report to prevent another person from being harmed by an ongoing threat. “It gives survivors strength in numbers,” she said.
Callisto offers info to assault survivors on how to report incidents to their colleges through the platform, including if the same perpetrator assaults another person. The website also includes information on support outlets such as medical services, counseling, legal resources, and a breakdown of their colleges’ policies.
The Callisto website lets assault survivors create a time-stamped record of what happened, by writing answers online about the incident such as how recent it was, where it occurred, and who was involved. As they answer these questions, Callisto offers prompts that state why they are being asked for the details. “That way survivors have clarity and [it] helps to demystify the reporting process,” Vitchers said.
If the person making a record wants to save the information, they must enter an encrypted key that only they will possess. Not even SHI can access the record, Vitchers said.
Once a record is created, the survivor can later add more details if new information comes to light—such as if their attacker has assaulted them again or intimidated them further. The record can be downloaded as a PDF on their own computer, and printed out to take to law enforcement. A filing can also be made through Callisto to participating colleges, with notes on when is the best time for an administrator to contact the survivor.
So far Callisto has been launched in a pilot program at Pomona College and the University of San Francisco, with hopes to expand to 10 additional campuses by fall 2016, Vitchers said.