[Trigger warning: This article contains explicit language in reference to sexual assault and harassment.]
It’s sexual assault awareness month, and a phone app that helps college students navigate issues around sexual assault is coming out of the woodworks.
“Reach Out,” created by Capptivation, lets anonymous users pick from one in 2,500 schools in the app’s data frame to delve into step-by-step guides, community and campus resources, and legalities and policies surrounding sexual assault.
“All the information’s out there but it’s spread all over the place,” said Reach Out data maintenance worker Billy Sadik-Khan.
He felt that survivors are always either faced with the inability to find what they need answers for, or are inundated and overwhelmed with too many different answers.
“Some schools don’t do a good job, so our goal is to empower survivors,” Sadik-Khan said.
The app first prompts its user to select a school, then their home screen populates with that college’s and its community’s specific resources. There’s an option to click a button that says “start here,” which brings the user to a step-by-step guide for how a victim can react or should handle the aftermath of sexual assault or rape. Users can also check out how to file a complaint, report it to the police, file a civil lawsuit, or report to their school’s administration. Other things in the app include policies and school-specific definitions, medical information, what to expect during an exam, and how to preserve evidence.
The creators have also created a “carousel function” that allows users to swipe between schools, which is helpful for comparison, for friends, transferring students, or parents with kids at different institutions.
Reporting is one of the key problems in cases of sexual violence or harassment. A 2015 survey conducted by the Association for American Universities found that transgender, genderqueer, or non-conforming college undergraduates experienced the highest rates of unwanted sexual contact, followed closely by females.
People who had sexual contact involving physical force and incapacitation, sexual harassment,intimate partner violence, and stalking were asked, for each instance, if they had reported it to friends, the police, or their school. The highest rates of reporting were for stalking at 28 percent and physically forced penetration at 25.5 percent. Reporting rates were lowest for sexual touching, involving both physical force (seven percent) and incapacitation (five percent). In addition, over 60 percent of respondents believed campus officials were unlikely to take action in addressing factors that may have led to the sexual assault or sexual misconduct on campus.
Sadik-Khan expressed that there’s an information gap between what rights people actually have versus what rights they understand to be violated (if they do). This is often referenced as rights consciousness in theoretical academia.
The data manager felt that if victims knew about the rules of consent, for example, there wouldn’t be as much timidness in reporting it. But there are other concepts at play. Perhaps it’s not that victims don’t grasp the rights available to them, but rather that they fully comprehend how unlikely it is their rights will hold up in court or in school. The Huffington Post requested the U.S. Department of Justice’s survey responses on 125 colleges regarding sexual assault (which includes rape), and found that less than one-third of students who committed sexual assault were expelled.
“Our philosophy is if we can help in any way, however marginal, it’s worth it,” Sadik-Khan said.
In an effort to bridge the reporting gap and to make colleges more navigable, Reach Out holds information on 40,000 resources. Colleges can access the database and choose to edit and organize what information displays in the app. Sadik-Khan said 40 percent of the schools they have in the app are fully resourced, meaning they have definitions and policies included and verified. The UW is one of those schools. Regardless of whether or not schools are signed up, they’re still in the app.
“We try to make it easier for students to come forward,” Sadik-Khan said. “Awareness and facilitating the actual act of reporting are totally intertwined.”
Sadik-Khan is accompanied by Jack Zandi when it comes to the app’s data management. The two, along with Racquel Giner and Zach Csillag, began conceptualizing the app in 2014, when media was focusing on Title IX violations and an uproar surrounded a Rolling Stone article.
“If we could do a social good while doing something kind of unique and interesting compared to everyone else then that was win-win,” Zandi said. “The Rolling Stone article was kind of just the straw that broke the camel’s back, the avalanche of sexual misconduct stories that made waves.”
Zandi expressed that brand name schools weren’t usually any better than more rural or less-funded schools, although Sadik-Khan expressed that he saw a difference. Either way, Zandi felt resources shouldn’t be a problem, and felt strongly that Title IX Coordinators should have one job for something so important rather than being stretched thin across occupying multiple positions within a school. This was an issue the team saw frequently.
“You would think with such a massive topic that requires the expertise in the field that they couldn’t do multiple things, but that that’s the name of the game I guess,” Zandi said.