KUNM

Campuses Face Pressure To Sort Out Sexual Assault Reporting

Nov 17, 2015

The White House has been calling for college campuses to better protect students from sexual assault. And last year a task force presented recommendations for what should change. But universities across the country may be struggling to keep up. We checked in on how the University of New Mexico is faring—and one way technology might help.

Students at UNM who say they’ve been sexually assaulted express some common themes when they’re talking about the reporting process. It’s confusing, and overly long. They felt uncomfortable and intimidated sharing their stories with administrators. And it wasn’t clear whether their names would be kept private.

But the university has come up with what it hopes will be an answer to those complaints. We took that solution for a spin. 

I sat down with KUNM work-study student Allison Giron who attempted to navigate UNM’s website to find resources for students who are dealing with sexual violence and assault. She said she would be concerned about privacy. "I probably would call one of them but like, 'Oh, my friend, this happened to my friend' and see if they would give me information without taking my name and stuff."

Giron searched the words “sexual assault” and “UNM” and “resources” on Google and the university’s website. She got plenty of hits on the subject, but after a good stretch of time, she hadn’t dug up what she thinks she would need. "I don’t want to report it anymore," she said, "because there’s just too much information to read and it’s kind of like, I don’t know, sifting through to find exactly if I can report this or how I can report this."

I jumped in and told her about the Lobo Respect Advocacy Center—she hadn’t come across it, yet. And when we got to the homepage, the button promising more information about the center didn’t work.  

Lobo Respect opened last month as the Department of Justice investigates the university’s sexual assault policies. It’s intended to be a convenient one-stop hub for navigating the reporting process. Lisa Lindquist is the director of the center. "Our main goal is to be an advocate for our students as they move through the process," she said. "So whether that’s attending the meetings with them to ensure that they are getting the questions answered that they need answered or asking the questions that they need to ask."

Part of Lindquist’s job is also to coordinate the Office of Parent and Family Programs. So she’s not solely focused on sexual assault issues.

"What we’re really wanting is to help students understand that they have rights and a means to deal with situations that are difficult, and that there are options for them," Lindquist said.

Kate Lazarov is the project lead for a digital sexual assault reporting system called Callisto. She said nationally, the pressure’s on for campuses everywhere to get this stuff figured out. "Instead of trying to really understand how to best serve their students, unfortunately they’re scrambling to be in compliance," she said.

Developers interviewed more than 100 survivors about what they wish had been in place when they were going through the process. Callisto tries to outline the options for students—forcing universities to get clear about what they are, too. And it creates a virtual reporting system that helps connect the dots: It lets students generate a time-stamped report that doesn’t go anywhere until they’re alerted that someone else has reported the same perpetrator.

"Most campus assaults—it’s estimated up to 90 percent actually—are committed by repeat offenders," she said. "And if those individuals could be stopped after their second incident, it’s estimated that 60 percent of college rapes could be prevented."

Nearly two-thirds of college rapes would not happen if the repeat offenders were being stopped after their second assault, she said. "It’s always hardest for the first one to come forward. We think there’s strength in numbers."

Callisto is being used at two test schools now, and will expand to 10 more in 2016. UNM isn’t one of those schools, but Lazarov says she’s hoping the system will be widely adopted down the line.

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KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.