Sexual Assault Accusations Enter the 21st Century
Sexual assault continues to be in the spotlight at the 5Cs, mostly as a result of the continued activism of Pomona College students and the proactivity of the administration. During the 2015 Pomona College Commencement ceremony, a majority of students graduating turned their backs to Pomona College president David Oxtoby to protest the allegedly poor treatment of sexual assault victims. In response to these protests, Oxtoby sent out a letter to students on June 3rd announcing new initiatives to improve the response to sexual assault reports, allegations, and prosecution.
One initiative in particular stands out: the adoption of Callisto, an online reporting system for sexual assault victims that serves as a complaint escrow. Simply put, this software allows sexual assault victims to record an incident’s details on a third-party device and safeguard it for future use. Callisto provides many features, including immediately reporting an incident, reporting the incident information when a second claim surfaces against the same attacker, or deleting the report if the victim decides against reporting the assault. The report includes any level of detail that the victim chooses to share, and has the option to submit reports to college administration and/or law enforcement. Only the parties involved in the case have access to the information which prevents mismanagement of student records. Falsified reports can also be prevented since suspicious reporting patterns and inconsistent information is kept on record once it is submitted.
Jessica Ladd (PO ’07) started development of Callisto in 2011 to reduce negative sexual assault reporting experiences and to collect details about sexual assault incidents. Since Callisto reduces contact with administration, the chances of a bad reporting experience are greatly reduced. This should lead to higher sexual assault reporting rates on college campuses.
Callisto also allows for data collection on sexual assault incidents. Even with just two founding institutions adopting Callisto for the 2015-2016 school year, the software provides the opportunity to collect reliable statistics for sexual assaults on college campuses. Better statistics lead to better research and better problem-solving for campuses willing to address the problem. Access to reliable data in future studies can help colleges and universities assess the effects of Callisto and other sexual assault initiatives, keep track of sexual assault rates on campuses, and discover initiatives that prioritize the safety of students.
The Callisto interface has many benefits, but also exacerbates the flaws already present in the sexual assault reporting process. Falsified accusations can be submitted anonymously through thoughtful coordination without ever lying to an administrator’s face. Students could also submit reports on a whim against someone who offered a disappointing sexual experience or other various misgivings. Although falsified sexual assault reports are uncommon, the possibility of framing a student as part of a grudge and making them deal with the Title IX process for sexual assault accusations can be very burdensome for the accused, even if the student is found innocent.
On the other hand, Callisto can also be used to collect suspicious and deliberate attempts to unjustly incriminate students. Reports against a student that are all submitted to Callisto at the same time, for example, could be a scenario deemed as a falsified report. As mentioned earlier, inconsistent data from sexual assault reports is also compiled and can be used against malicious Callisto users. The actual effects of whether false reporting would change with Callisto are uncertain at best.
Pomona College is one of the most progressive college campuses in the country when it comes to addressing sexual assault. It is my hope that future data and analysis from Callisto will help us determine the magnitude of sexual assaults on campus and the steps necessary to address the problem across the nation. It is also my hope that we avoid the slippery slope of falsely accusing students of sexual assault based on a grudge or for a consensual but unpleasant time.
Students must also learn the difference between a sexual assault and a poor experience with intimate partners. Most students will go through experiences that they regret or undertake without proper judgement on both sides, but these experiences do not necessarily justify a sexual assault report. Even with very inefficient sexual assault reporting processes at colleges and the unfair treatment of victims through the Title IX process, Callisto can help streamline the process of sexual assault cases or even circumvent schools and go directly to law enforcement. The premise of “innocent until proven guilty” should be upheld throughout any type of adjudication by colleges and universities. Callisto will help maintain factual accuracy and give both the accuser and the accused an equal opportunity to present their cases.