from the hi-tech-smackdown dept.
According to a recent study of 27 schools, about one-quarter of female undergraduates said they had experienced nonconsensual sex or touching since entering college, but most of the students said they did not report it to school officials or support services. Now Natasha Singer reports at the NYT that in an effort to give students additional options — and to provide schools with more concrete data — a nonprofit software start-up in San Francisco called Sexual Health Innovations has developed an online reporting system for campus sexual violence. One of the most interesting features of Callisto is a matching system — in which a student can ask the site to store information about an assault in escrow and forward it to the school only if someone else reports another attack identifying the same assailant. The point is not just to discover possible repeat offenders. In college communities, where many survivors of sexual assault know their assailants, the idea of the information escrow is to reduce students' fears that the first person to make an accusation could face undue repercussions.
"It's this last option that makes Callisto unique," writes Olga Khazan. "Most rapes are committed by repeat offenders, yet most victims know their attackers. Some victims are reluctant to report assaults because they aren't sure whether a crime occurred, or they write it off as a one-time incident. Knowing about other victims might be the final straw that puts an end to their hesitation—or their benefit of the doubt. Callisto's creators claim that if they could stop perpetrators after their second victim, 60 percent of campus rapes could be prevented." This kind of system is based partly on a Michigan Law Review article about "information escrows," or systems that allow for the transmitting of sensitive information in ways that reduce "first-mover disadvantage" also known to economists as the "hungry penguin problem". As game theorist Michael Chwe points out, the fact that each person creates her report independently makes it less likely they'll later be accused of submitting copycat reports, if there are similarities between the incidents.