COLLEGE
10/21/2014 05:35 pm ET Updated Oct 23, 2014

Group Builds Novel Sexual Assault Reporting System -- By Talking To Survivors

Sexual Health Innovations

A nonprofit company says it has designed an online system for reporting sexual assaults, for use by colleges and universities. What it has going for it that others don't: It was created with the input of rape survivors and student activists.

The third-party sexual assault reporting system is called Callisto, and was designed by nonprofit Sexual Health Innovations for use by higher education institutions. Callisto allows a victim to file an incident report online, to "receive a clear explanation of their reporting options, and then either directly submit the report to their chosen authority or save it as a time-stamped record," the company said in its description.

Sexual Health Innovations, whose advisory board includes sexual assault survivors and activists, public health officials and college professors, set up a Crowdrise fundraising page this week to get the Callisto service off the ground. As of Tuesday afternoon, the page had collected $1,250 toward a goal of $10,000, but organizers say they need to raise significantly more -- as much as $200,000 -- to staff it adequately.

The Callisto system would allow reporting victims to choose to have their perpetrator reported to authorities immediately if the accused has also been reported as an assailant by another user. The initial victim would also get a notification in the event that an additional report is made. But no other individuals or administrators would have access to the database to see whether any single person is listed as either an assailant or victim. Founder and Executive Director of Sexual Health Innovations Jessica Ladd said this is to maintain privacy and to prevent false reports.

But what's unique is that the system itself was developed after more than a year of collecting feedback from sexual assault survivors, including Ladd, who said she experienced sexual violence in college and went through the reporting process.

"The reporting process was not very empowering, but that's where the idea came from," Ladd told The Huffington Post.

Callisto was developed with input from the anti-sexual assault advocacy and activist groups End Rape On Campus, Futures Without Violence, Know Your IX, Surviving in Numbers, the Clery Center, Faculty Against Rape and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

Ladd said developers interviewed 43 college sexual assault survivors and more than 100 other individuals, ages 18 to 30. She also suggested that, based on their interviews, had a system like Callisto been in place at the time of their assaults, the rate of reporting among their interviewees would have tripled.

"We want to be clear: This is by survivors, for survivors," Ladd said, "and us understanding and having empathy for the trauma that survivors go through after a sexual assault and just how scary the reporting process is."

Multiple studies show that between 20 percent and 25 percent of women experience sexual assault by the time they graduate from college, but few report it. Less than 5 percent of completed and attempted rapes of women in college get reported to the criminal justice system, according to one Bureau of Justice Statistics/Department of Justice report, and the number drops still further for other types of sexual assault. Since so few are reported at all, however, experts suggest the small numbers included in annual college crime statistics paint a false picture.

"We'll probably have to choose a happy medium between what the schools say they need to accurately understand the problem on the campus, without threatening the anonymity of survivors," Ladd said, suggesting that Callisto could deliver relevant statistics via an updating dashboard of most recent reports or through annual reports.

"We want to make it very clear to survivors they control who it's reported to and when," Ladd said.

UPDATE, Oct. 23: Sexual Health Innovations said they hit their $10,000 goal within 24 hours and have now increased the goal to $20,000, noting they still expect the actual cost to get the system in place on college campuses will be much higher.

CONVERSATIONS