One in five women have been or will be sexually assaulted during their time in college. Unfortunately, a number this high means that there are also vast numbers of rapists on college campuses. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, only 11 percent of college sexual assault victims reported the crime to police or college authorities, meaning the huge majority of rapists go unpunished.
There are many reasons rape victims may choose not to report the crime committed against them. Many of those reasons exemplify broader institutional barriers established by rape culture. Most often, women are not sure if what happened to them constitutes rape, do not know how or to whom to report the crime, are worried officials won’t take their claims seriously or don’t want to draw attention to themselves or the rapist.
Callisto, a new website and app in its pilot phase at some college campuses, aims to reduce the barriers assault victims face when reporting their rapes.
First, Callisto provides a platform for rape victims to document their rape incident in writing and mark a time stamp as soon as they choose to do so. The document is then stored indefinitely and kept private until (and if) the victim decides to proceed. Such a feature allows victims to record details of the incident quickly, accurately and non-invasively.
Storing this information for later recall prevents a victim from having to repeatedly describe to authorities the same traumatic event. Further, having written documentation of a rape lessens the unfortunate likelihood that a victim would face bias when coming forward with their report in person.
Next, Callisto gives users the option to send their report directly to the title IX coordinator on their campus. This feature saves victims the often-traumatic step of having to navigate their campus’s legal system on their own. It also provides officials who manage rape cases the necessary information they will need to move forward with investigations.
Callisto’s last and most unique feature is that, rather than reporting their rape directly, a user can store the report in a database, where it will only be reported to officials if or when a second accusation is made against the same rapist.
The idea of the “second strike” reporting is based on the fact that most rapists offend repeatedly. In fact, Callisto’s creators claim that 60 percent of campus rapes could be prevented if rapists were caught after their second victim. A user might utilize this feature if they’re not sure how to classify what happened to them, don’t believe they have enough “evidence” to make a report, or believe their rapist may not hurt anyone else. While it has its value, this feature is what makes the app a little problematic.
Can you imagine if any other violent crime was reported in this way? Can you imagine if the perpetrator was given a second chance to hurt another and only pursued when it was too late?
If the option to store the user’s report until it is “matched” with a similar accusation makes victims feel more comfortable reporting the crime in the first place, that is great. But promoting this option as more innovative or preferable to other reporting methods delegitimizes the first victim’s report, treating it as if that account is only valid if it can be confirmed by another tragedy.
Callisto provides rape victims with a sense of agency by giving them options, and should be lauded for its attempts to reduce barriers to reporting and creating a space for dialogue about campus rape.
However, too many people already fear that their own rape is not “serious” enough to warrant prosecuting their rapist. Rapists never deserve the benefit of the doubt.
One rape is one too many, and any app or tool used for reporting rape, empowering victims or educating the republic should reflect that.
Follow Hailey Dickson on Twitter.