Sexual assault on college campuses has recently been labeled an epidemic, most notably by lawmakers pushing for much-needed reforms in how campus sexual assaults are tracked and handled. That’s a bit of a misnomer, though; the problem of campus sexual assault is more of a slow-burning affliction than some sort of recent outbreak. Sexual assault rates haven’t really gone up since at least the 1980s. “Just limiting what we’re talking about to the prevalence rate of either attempted rape or rape victimization among women, the number is consistently somewhere between one in four and one in five,” says William Flack, a professor of psychology at Bucknell University whose research focuses on the trauma of sexual assault.
But while the amount of sexual violence on our nation’s campuses may not be increasing, awareness of the problem certainly is. Many survivors, no longer content to suffer in silence, have become activists, forcing universities, lawmakers, and the rest of us to confront an issue that has been blocked from our collective conscience for far too long.
There’s Columbia University’s Emma Sulkowicz, who’s been carrying a mattress around campus in protest after her school neglected to punish the student who allegedly assaulted her. Or Dana Bolger and Alexandra Brodsky, survivors who launched “Know Your IX,” a campaign to educate students about their rights and their universities’ legal responsibilities, when their own colleges discouraged them from filing reports on their assaults.
And then there’s Jessica Ladd, an epidemiologist turned sexual health activist who wants to help sexual assault survivors by fixing a particularly troubling hurdle on the road to recovery—the reporting process.
Ladd created the reporting process that she wished she had: an online tool called Callisto.
Callisto is an information escrow, or a third-party system that holds information and releases it only when prearranged conditions are met. First, Callisto counsels survivors on their reporting options: Should they report an incident to campus security, or their dean, or the police? What counts as sexual assault? What sort of evidence should be saved? Who will have access to their information once the report has been filed? Survivors can explore their options in the system, and choose the option that suits their situation best.
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