New tech tools aim to improve sexual assault reporting on campus

Not all administrators are sold on it

Experts are divided over third-party websites that allow students to anonymously report campus sexual assaults, Emma Pettit reports for the Chronicle of Higher Education

While students can already report in-person or online at every school—as required by Title IX—the new websites may encourage more people to come forward, as well as open up data-collection opportunities and enable a deeper understanding of the problem. However, some remain skeptical for a variety of reasons. 

One such web platform, Callisto, allows students to log what happened anonymously without submitting. Later, when or if they feel ready, the students may attach their names to the report and send it to their school. Identities are verified through campus email accounts.

Regardless of whether students file the report, it remains stored on Callisto's website, so students can always go back and decide later.

The platform also includes an opt-in matching system, which aims to identify repeat offenders. A built-in option enables students to send their report only if someone else reports being assaulted by the same offender. 

A holistic approach to sexual violence prevention

A similar nonprofit web platform, Lighthouse, allows students to fill out a report, which is then sent to their university's Title IX coordinator. Students can also choose to send it to the local police, campus police, or the local arm of the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights.

Fast, easy channels for reporting are appealing to students who don't want to meet in-person with police or administrators, says Luke Roopra, CEO of Lighthouse and Vertiglo Software, its parent company.

But some administrators remain skeptical, saying that third-party platforms open student information up to security risks and the schools to a barrage of low-level reports.

Others say they're concerned a third-party platform will separate the students from campus resources. If a student enters information into a report, but decides not to send it to the school, then some administrators worry the student may not get connected to campus resources.

"We don't have the opportunity to reach out to that student to provide counseling, to provide housing modifications, to help them with the final exam that's coming up in a couple of weeks and they're so overwhelmed with the trauma that they can't study," says Howard Kallem, Duke University's Title IX coordinator. "They're on their own."

The channel you should be using in your sexual misconduct response strategy

The systems still have a few kinks to iron out. The Title IX coordinator for the State University of New York at Plattsburgh says she received a report from Lighthouse involving people who never attended her university. If reports don't get to all colleges related to an incident, the person who reported the incident may lose faith in the system, she said.

But other parties say the platforms offer another way for administrators to grasp the problem and to encourage students to come forward. 

Three critical steps to improve sexual misconduct reporting

Some students remain silent because they don't trust universities to handle the problem. Third-party websites may be able to "put a little more trust back into the process," says Faith Ferber, a senior at American University who filed a Title IX complaint against her school.

Additionally, seeing the data has allowed at least one administrator to identify a new pattern. Reports spike just before and after fall and spring breaks, says Daren Mooko, Pomona College's Title IX coordinator. With that information, he can plan more timely education and outreach, he says (Pettit, Chronicle of Higher Education, 8/11). 

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