For too many college victims, reporting an assault to campus authorities is a scary, obstacle-laden process. At small colleges, where it can seem like everyone knows everyone, reporting can be particularly fraught.
What if, for instance, your rapist is related to the Title IX Coordinator? (Yes, unfortunately, we’ve seen that.) What if someone on the investigative committee goes to your church? What if your abuser has threatened to retaliate if you tell anyone? What if your abuser is popular and has lots of friends? What if your college has a real “we’re all one big happy family” vibe going on and you’re worried you’ll be punished for raining on the parade with your rape story?
Most victims don’t report. At big schools and small schools alike, that’s still the reality.
There’s no reporting system that is a panacea for these problems. But the best online system we’ve seen so far, in terms of its sensitivity to the reporting issues faced by survivors, is Callisto, a platform designed by sexual violence survivors in the tech industry. Callisto does several important things that other systems do not. For instance, Callisto allows victims to make time-stamped reports of their assaults that they can wait to submit until they are ready—a feature that is particularly useful for victims fearing retaliation. They can also choose to submit their report only on the condition that another person names the same perpetrator. Reports can be anonymous. (Watch Callisto’s founder, Jessica Ladd, describe the system in this Ted Talk.)
Callisto has only been around since the 2015-2016 school year, but at the thirteen colleges where it has been adopted, the results are astounding. In the 2016-2017 school year, survivors who used the system were five times more likely to report their assaults than survivors who did not. Ninety-seven percent of Callisto’s users say they would recommend it to other survivors. Even during the pilot year of the project, when they worked with only two colleges, the sexual assault reports on those campuses quadrupled. (That’s a good thing, by the way. It doesn’t mean that the rate of assaults is increasing; it means that there’s a reporting system in place that victims are finding more approachable.)
On October 29, the Student Government Association of Bethel College (North Newton, Kansas) unanimously passed a resolution in support of Bethel adopting Callisto as its online reporting system for sexual violence. Into Account spoke with Kiley Varney, a senior biology major and the Bethel student body president, and Rebecca Schrag, a junior graphic design major, student government representative, and president of Bethel’s feminist collective Femcore, about the reasons for the resolution, and the current state of sexual violence reporting and education at Bethel.
If you’re part of the greater Bethel community–an alum, faculty or staff member, parent, and/or donor–Bethel students need your help right now. There’s one simple thing you can do to help student government bring Callisto to Bethel: Go to the Callisto website and fill out the form entitled “Bring Callisto to Your School.” You can fill this out as a student, alum, parent, staff/faculty/administrator, or “other.” Let Callisto know you’d like to see them at Bethel. And watch this space: we may have more actions related to Bethel and Callisto for you to take in the coming months.
If you’d like to advocate for Callisto at another school you’re connected to, you can also fill out the form for that school. Student activists interested in Callisto can download Callisto’s activist toolkit. Contact us here at Into Account if you need help getting started.
Into Account: Tell us about the reporting system that Bethel has right now. What options do students have for reporting? What are the issues with that system?
Varney: Bethel currently has a platform via our online campus infrastructure (ThresherConnect) that allows students to report student life-related concerns. When a student fills out this form, there is space for them to describe the event they are reporting as well as a space to describe their desired outcome of the situation. There is space for students to fill out their name and contact information if they wish to, but this section is optional.
I see a few problems with this system.
First, the form is called a “Student Life Concern Form”. This wording does not make it clear that the system can be used to report issues of sexual violence. Nowhere on the form does it explicitly say that it can be used to report sexual violence cases either. Even though this system is set up to handle reports of sexual violence, it is also used for a variety of other things such as roommate issues. The form even includes specific instructions for what to do if the concern is related to a class/professor. If a student were going to use this form to report a case of sexual violence but then saw these instructions for reports about a class, they might be deterred from reporting, for fear that this would not be the right place to do so.
Second, when a student does submit a concern via this system, it is unclear what happens to the information afterward. Based on the information given on this platform, a student would not know who their report got sent to and whether or not the information would be kept confidential. Not knowing who would see a report and what actions would be taken because of it might keep someone from reporting a case of sexual violence.
The third problem I see with this system is that a large number of students on our campus do not know that it exists. If students do know that it exists, they may not know that it exists to serve as a reporting system for issues of sexual violence among other issues on our campus. The system is not well-advertised a place to report sexual violence cases. Sexual violence is an issue that deserves its own reporting system that is separate from other student life concerns, and students should be better informed of what the system is for and how to use it.
Into Account: What are some of your biggest concerns about sexual violence on the Bethel campus?
Varney: My biggest concerns would be: 1) we don’t have an adequate reporting system, and 2) we do not do enough to educate students on issues of sexual violence and how to prevent them and report them. I am pleased with some of the work being done at Bethel to provide resources for survivors. We have a local organization called SafeHope with trained professionals that come to campus once a week and provide a space for people to talk about things that have happened to them or someone they know even if the occurrence was a long time ago. We also have a licensed counselor on campus that can provide regular counseling services to students. We are making progress in providing these services to survivors, but there is still more that can be done to improve education, awareness, and resources available to students.
Into Account: Tell us about your interest in getting the Callisto reporting system. How did the student government association get involved in promoting Callisto at Bethel? What led to your resolution? What are you hoping for?
Varney: This summer, I was informed about Project Callisto by Dwight Krehbiel (Professor of Psychology at Bethel, father of Stephanie Krehbiel, Into Account’s Co-Founder/Executive Director). Dwight also introduced me to two community members who are willing to put forth resources to help implement Callisto at Bethel. I learned about what the Callisto is and brought it to the entire student government to discuss.
At first, I was hesitant for SGA to support Callisto because of its high cost. It seemed like there would be better ways to use the money that the community members were willing to put forth to implement multiple educational/awareness tools and resources for students regarding sexual violence, instead of spending it all on a reporting system. After discussing these concerns at length with the Senate and seeing that many Senate members felt that Callisto would be worth the money and worth our support, I wrote a resolution that established official SGA support. The resolution, which states that SGA officially supports the college to pursue the implementation of Callisto, was passed by the Senate a few weeks ago.
With the passage of this resolution, we hope to continue to be in contact with everyone involved in influencing the College to implement Callisto. We have also reached out to the Title IX Coordinator and hope to meet with her and possibly other members of the committee after the new year to discuss Callisto as well as SGA’s other goal of implementing Bystander Training on campus. The resolution establishes SGA’s support (and by extension, the student body’s support) for the College to actively pursue Callisto, and we hope that that support will have a lot of influence on those making decisions about the implementation of Callisto. The resolution also lays the foundation for SGA members to continue to encourage the implementation of Callisto in whatever ways we may see necessary in the future.
Schrag: What I really love about Callisto is its emphasis to empower survivors of sexual violence. It would help resolve issues that our reporting system currently faces by giving victims options and support as well as a match system that safely connects victims of the same perpetrator together to validate each other’s experience and take action.
Into Account: Besides a better reporting system, what kinds of changes would you like to see in the way that Bethel approaches sexual violence?
Varney: I think that education about sexual violence and issues surrounding it can be improved. SGA is actively working on trying to bring Bystander Training to our campus. Bystander Training would be a great start to educating people about situations of sexual violence and how to intervene when they see dangerous or potentially dangerous interactions occurring. I would like to see Bystander Training implemented by next fall, and I hope that more education and awareness programs, as well as more availability to resources for survivors can be increased in the future too.
Schrag: I would like to see Bethel prioritizing these issues more. Last year, Bethel released a video spreading awareness of sexual violence and assault that specifically college students face. It was a step forward for Bethel to be aware that we have a problem but now it is time for us to create programs that combat this epidemic.