On Monday, September 26th 2016, CAASE partnered with DePaul University College of Law to host a public conversation about reporting campus sexual assault and the emergence of mobile apps and technology designed to increase campus sexual assault reporting.
Opening remarks were provided by Atty. General Lisa Madigan, CAASE Executive Director, Kaethe Morris Hoffer, and Cheryl Price, Director of Schiller DuCanto & Fleck Family Law Center at DePaul University's College of Law. The panel, moderated by CAASE Policy Director Lynne Johnson, included: Alicia Aiken, Director of the Confidentiality Institute; Sharmili Majmudar, Executive Director of Rape Victim Advocates; Veronica Portillo Heap, Title IX complainant and University of Chicago alum; Karen Tamburro, Title IX Coordinator at DePaul University and Luke Roopra, CEO & Co-Founder of Vertiglo Labs.
Roopra, CEO of Vertiglo, guided the audience through a demonstration of their new app, Lighthouse, designed for students on campuses to report sexual assault, harassment, or misconduct. As Roopra explained, students can create an account and fill out a form that has a number of options including: remaining anonymous, choosing who receives the report (local police, campus police or the Title IX office at the university), and many more. It also allows students to request a callback if they want to connect with service providers or have their school’s Title IX coordinator contact them.
Roopra said the app is designed to be a vehicle that simply delivers the information to where the student wants it to go. “We’re trying to streamline the process of reporting for students in a simple, easy-to-use way.”
But key stakeholders sitting on the panel raised questions and concerns about reporting apps.
Tamburron, DePaul University’s Title IX Coordinator, explained that the app is concerning because survivors would be unsure of where this report is going and may put their anonymity at risk if it didn’t go through the proper channels. Likewise, Portillo is skeptical of apps like these because most universities are in no way partnering with Lighthouse, leaving survivors with unfulfilled guarantees that their report will be investigated.
Mujmadar, of Rape Victim Advocates, explained the importance of looking at the track record that exists for universities and criminal justice response to sexual assault. An app like this still relies on those institutions to take care of the reporting. According to Mujmadar, person-to-person reporting is still the gold standard because experiencing sexual violence is traumatic and reporting it can’t be reduced to a logistical form you fill out.
Another significant point made in the discussion was that apps like these fail to explain to the user the implications of reporting. They don’t offer any legal advice and assume survivors immediately know which choice – reporting to local police, campus police, or the school – would be most effective. Panelists agreed that this kind of technology can’t replace an advocate who can guide survivors through the process.
Aiken, from Confidentiality Institute, noted that app users are unable to easily access the pros and cons of using an app like this and it’s not made clear, when you create an account, what level of privacy you’re getting or the fact that the app is collecting your data create trend products for sale to colleges and universities. Aiken encouraged participants to be not only tech savvy, but privacy savvy as well.
Despite concerns raised in the conversation, the Lighthouse app has a technological strength. The app, unlike many others, encrypts the information provided by students in a way that gives only the students the key to unlock that information. Private encryption prevents anyone from accessing the information, even Lighthouse. In addition, a new Illinois law also requires an electronic report for sexual assault which means having an app that protects the security of student reports could be a positive step.
Roopra also noted that the use of the Lighthouse app has increased reporting across campuses and the use of survey data has allowed them to assess risk levels at different universities. A challenge that must be addressed is that only 3% of those using the app are survivors of sexual violence – the rest are bystanders.
Without a definitive answer to the question: do reporting apps really help survivors of campus sexual assault? More conversations are needed and it is our hope that the sexual assault community can continue to work together to ensure safe and effective reporting.