The third-party system, Callisto, aims to make survivors feel more in control of the reporting process and identify repeat offenders, which the company thinks will make it more likely survivors will report.
Few University of Washington students report instances of sexual assault and harassment to their school. Student leaders and some administrators have proposed a solution to encourage students to speak up: an online reporting tool the school may implement as early as next fall.
The third-party website, Callisto Campus, allows users to write and save a report of sexual misconduct, which is kept confidential until the survivor decides to submit it to his or her university. Users can also enter a matching system and have their report held until someone else reports the same person, a feature intended to encourage survivors to report those who may be repeat offenders.
Callisto is a nonprofit startup company based in San Francisco with funders including Google. CEO Jessica Ladd, who has described her own experience reporting sexual assault as traumatic, created Callisto in 2015. Thirteen colleges now use the system.
Despite the optimism from some at the UW, Callisto is in its early days and officials from other schools were reluctant to comment on its effectiveness. While Callisto has shared numbers that indicate some initial success, data from the University of Oregon show a low number of reports made through the system in its first year — although use of the system could increase as students become more familiar with it.
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UW law student and former student regent Jaron Goddard has worked closely with Title IX coordinator Valery Richardson to assess Callisto, and they’re hopeful it can be implemented across the UW campuses by fall. Callisto gave UW an informal estimate of $10,000 in setup costs and $40,000 annually, Richardson said. Goddard is drafting a proposal for funding through the school’s student technology fee, with the support of student government.
They think it would address an acute problem. A 2016 UW survey found that relatively few students reported sexual misconduct to the university. Of survivors who indicated they didn’t tell anyone about the assault, nearly half said it was because they were afraid they’d be forced to make an official report.
Callisto aims to make survivors feel more in control of the reporting process, provide survivors with information about their options and identify repeat offenders, which the company thinks will make it more likely survivors will report.
“Knowing that you weren’t the only one changes everything,” Ladd said in a 2016 TED Talk. “It changes the way you frame your own experience. It changes the way you think about your perpetrator. It means that if you do come forward, you’ll have someone else’s back and they’ll have yours.”
The system asks users for details about when and where the assault occurred, drug and alcohol use, witnesses and information about the perpetrator and survivor. Survivors can write what happened in their own words and attach evidence. The report is time-stamped and saved. If the survivor submits a report or a match is made, the school’s Title IX coordinator is notified.
Callisto uses password protection and encryption that it claims prevents even its own team from being able to view records, and the names of perpetrators entered into the matching pool can only be decrypted if there is a match.
Even though Callisto has been touted as a potential solution, administrators from the University of Oregon and University of Southern California were reluctant to comment on the system’s effectiveness. Both schools have faced lawsuits and public scrutiny for how they’ve handled high-profile cases of sexual assault.
Officials at the University of Southern California, a private school, declined to say how many reports students created and submitted through Callisto. State law required Oregon, a public university, to release data in response to a public-records request.
The University of Oregon, which has nearly 23,000 students, began using Callisto in fall 2017. A Callisto report indicates that 20 students created 22 reports that school year, but only one was submitted to the school. Five reports were entered into the matching system and one match was made.
When compared to university-wide data, these numbers indicate that many survivors there haven’t yet taken to Callisto. Last year, students collectively told university employees about at least 274 incidents of alleged sexual misconduct, said University of Oregon spokesperson Molly Blancett. Not all resulted in official Title IX reports.
Schools of a similar size averaged 42 reports created and four submitted during that school year, according to Callisto’s report. Oregon may have lower numbers because colleges that have used Callisto longer saw increased engagement over time, according to Callisto.
When asked about Callisto’s effectiveness at Oregon, Richardson said effective outreach to students would be a priority if UW implements Callisto. While an increase in reports to the university is one goal, Callisto would also be a success if it increases students’ awareness of available resources, she said.
According to Callisto’s aggregate data from the past school year, survivors who visited t30heir school’s Callisto website were six times more likely to report than survivors who didn’t, and 15 percent of reports entered into the matching system had a match.
One University of Oregon senior told The Seattle Times she hadn’t planned to report the man she said sexually assaulted her a year ago because they share a friend group and she feared retaliation. That changed when a woman in her support group said the same man sexually harassed her.
“If he can be stopped, I don’t want him doing that to anyone else,” the student said.
The student connected with the other survivor outside Callisto’s matching system, but said if the system can do something similar for other students, it may encourage reporting.
She doesn’t think all students know it’s an option, though. And while she said using Callisto made her feel in control of the process, she’s still worried about having to go through the university once she submits her report.
Blancett said the university highlights Callisto in trainings, fliers, posters in dorms, campus-wide emails and in outreach from confidential staff.
Jennifer Freyd, a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon known for research on campus sexual violence, served on Callisto’s advisory board. She said increasing reporting is a good goal, but that schools must do more to rebuild trust and ensure their systems can follow up on reports effectively.