In the ongoing battle against sexual assault, the stigma against reporting attacks, particularly on college campuses, has proven continuously difficult to address. A product of both a victim-blaming culture and a lack of appropriate tools and infrastructure, an alarming proportion of rapes and assaults go unreported and seemingly unnoticed. And while technical innovations have emerged in recent months to prevent sexual assault (such as the Companion app or Athena wearable), technology is still lacking when it comes to the reactive side of the issue. But with Callisto, a project that emerged from 501(c)3 non-profit Sexual Health Innovations, this may be changing for the better.
A college sexual assault reporting system for the 21st century, Callisto intends to “provide a more empowering, transparent, and confidential reporting experience for college sexual assault survivors.” Users are given the opportunity to log into their school’s specific Callisto website, “record what happened in an online form, and securely save the record with a timestamp.” The site also provides survivors with information about where and when they can report the incident, and what to do if the same perpetrator is reported by someone else. And because Callisto gives full autonomy to the user in terms of how and when to submit their report, the system introduces a bit of control back into a situation in which victims often feel completely powerless.
“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, told the New York Times. “Whereas online, you can fill out a form at any time of day or night from anywhere and push a button.”
Already, the site has raised nearly $400,000 from Google.org and other notable supporters, and both Pomona College and the University of San Francisco in California are implementing the system on a trial basis. As per the New York Times, a number of students at UCSF have already made use of the site, reporting assaults to school officials.
As colleges across the country and government officials continue to consider ways to eradicate violence against women, having a reporting system like Callisto that is easy, anonymous, and unobtrusive may be key in moving us forward. Ladd noted that her own experience in attempting to report her assault catalyzed her decision to create Callisto. “I went through the reporting process and found it disempowering and retraumatizing,” she said. “I started thinking about what would have been helpful.”
In addition to its service as a reporting structure, Callisto also provides schools with useful data about attacks — when and where they’re occurring, and potentially even identifying repeat offenders thanks to the site’s matching system. In one option, students can choose to hold off on reporting an assault unless another individual reports an attack by the same person.
However, critics note that the need for a Facebook profile link in identifying alleged perpetrators may prove problematic. “It might allow people who have survived sexual assault to get over the first-mover disadvantage, but it may also codify an entrenched attitude that women need to have corroborating evidence to be believed,” Keith Hiatt, the director of the technology program at the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law told the Time.“We have to be a little sad that we live in a world where something like this is necessary.”