Students advocate for new sexual assault program, Callisto
An energy sparked within a small group of the University of San Diego community has now spread into the corners of campus. Starting with one individual who noted a fault in our current sexual assault reporting system, Associate Students Senate is about to vote on whether or not they want to continue this process on to administration.
USD students currently have three options to report incidents of sexual assault. First, students may submit an anonymous report to USD through the Department of Public Safety (PSafe) website. The student may provide PSafe with a personal report of any information regarding the incident, including the suspect’s name, location, and incident description if they choose. The second and third options are for students to report directly to USD or go to the San Diego Police Department (SDPD). Students may report to a variety of sources on campus, the Counseling Center, PSafe, or any Campus Assault Resource and Education (CARE) advocate. Students who call into PSafe to report a sexual assault are connected with a CARE advocate. Junior Abbie Barnes, who has spearheaded the movement to bring on this new reporting system, shared her beliefs regarding the fault in our current options that have led her to campaign for a new path for survivors to take.
“The issue with this [anonymous reporting] is that investigators have no way of getting any further details or evidence, and, as a result, it is often inconclusive because they don’t have much to go off of,” Barnes said. “Also, the survivor has literally no way of knowing what happened with the investigation and whether they were successful or turned away; the only way to know is by word of mouth or through friends.”
Additionally, Barnes offered some of the issues survivors face when considering reporting to the authorities.
“There’s a lot of reasons survivors hesitate to report to USD or SDPD, including fear of facing undue social consequences, self-doubt, distrust of the judicial system, and reluctance to deal with the emotionally difficult process of reporting,” Barnes said.
For Barnes, the solution to the current problems in our system came in the form of an online program called Callisto. Callisto is a non-profit organization created by sexual assault survivors and used by schools such as the University of San Francisco and Pomona College. Only a year since it was created, Callisto has already been endorsed by several well-known organizations, including Google, Forbes, TED, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Women’s Foundation.
Callisto offers three options for victims in how they choose to proceed after an assault. The first option is for students to create a confidential time-stamped record of the incident. The Callisto website claimed that on average, survivors can wait up to 11 months until they report an attack. This time-stamp record allows for survivors to journal their personal and private experience so that it is not altered by outsiders, peer-pressure, self doubt, or other possible influences. This also allows for students to take the time they need to gather any concerns or emotions before continuing with an investigation, if they choose to do so.
The second option is for survivors to report online directly to the USD Title IX coordinator. While this is similar to what USD offers now, Barnes shared what makes this different is that survivors do not have to report directly to PSafe.
“Rather than reporting to a Public Safety officer, who is most likely a stranger, you can report online, through a third-party site, in the comfort of your home, rather than having to immediately talk to someone you don’t know about something so personal and vulnerable and traumatic,” Barnes said.
The third option, which works as a matching system, is what makes this program so unique from already-existing programs. With this particular function, a survivor will put the name of their attacker into the Callisto system. If no other students report the same name, that name will stay hidden in the system. However, if another student provides the same name as an attacker, the information is automatically sent to the police for an investigation to follow.
After receiving uncertainty from administration, Barnes explained that she took matters into her own hands. She said she figured that the best place for her to start was within the Greek community.
Title IX coordinator Nicole Schuessler explained the process of potentially bringing Callisto to campus in the future.
“I have requested a sub-committee of USD’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Steering Committee (SVPRSC), which is comprised of students, faculty, staff, and administrators to gather more information about Callisto,” Schuessler said.
“A small group of SVPRSC committee members, myself included, will be meeting via webinar with Callisto representatives this month to learn more about their services.”
Barnes and several other advocates for this program put together a presentation, including personal testimonies, statistics, information on Callisto, and a request for signatures. This presentation was given to all of the fraternities on campus and seven of the sorority chapters.
Sophomore Faith Hale, who assisted Barnes in delivering the presentation to Greek chapters, shared that she believes this method was impactful and received such a positive response.
“Presenting as a group of girls who have been personally affected by sexual assault, we were able to show the community how much this program could impact a life,” Hale said. “With this reporting system, it could change the way people view sexual assault and reporting.”
“The feedback we received from students was incredibly positive, everyone seemed on board, and we got so many more signatures than we could have hoped for,” Hale said.
On Thursday, Dec. 1, several advocates for the implementation of this new program gave the same presentation to the Associated Students Senate. The resolution will receive its final vote by the Senate on Thursday, Dec. 8. If the resolution is passed, it will then be sent straight to the desk of President Harris and Vice President Allen for official approval.
Written by Abby Gentry, Assistant News Editor