Society Magazine

Is A Digital Tool The Key To Addressing Campus Sexual Assault?

Posted on the 23 May 2016 by Juliez
Is A Digital Tool The Key To Addressing Campus Sexual Assault?

We need to address campus sexual assault.

The stark reality of the high rate of sexual assault on college campuses is nothing new, and neither is college administrations’ resistance to addressing it. Far too many students continue to seek support from their respective universities after they are assaulted on campus, but still fail to achieve any sense of justice. Survivors’ accounts of their assaults are scrutinized to the point of re-victimization and perpetrators still face inadequate consequences.

I’ve seen this firsthand. I know many female students at my own Canadian university who felt no sense of justice after reporting their sexual assaults to campus administrators. For example, concerns about seeing their perpetrator on campus were neither heard nor addressed. Multiple students instead received rather dismissive feedback along the lines of: “We can ban the individual from entering your residence, but you’re just going to have to deal with seeing them around campus” and, “we will document this, but there is no need for you to contact the police.”

Not only have many women received inadequate responses, but their cases have also been poorly investigated. One of my classmates had to wait three months after reporting her assault to learn the assault was in fact being investigated. She then endured months of grueling interviews before she was told the “alleged” assault was too much of a “he-said-she-said” incident to render sufficient evidence for penal action — meaning that her assailant would remain a student and his only punishment was being required to write her a letter of apology and attend a week-long session of sensitivity training. My friend, like many others I know on our small campus of about 2,000 students, felt frustrated, empty and re-victimized. When I was assaulted in 2012, my university’s administration also responded inadequately — but I soon saw that their actions weren’t personal to me, but rather the status quo.

Given this widespread, low standard of conduct and administrators’ apparent priority of maintaining a positive image rather than help their students, it’s no wonder that student survivors like myself, and my classmates are looking for new ways to report their experiences of sexualized violence. And it looks like there might be a new tool that will help them do just that.

Lighthouse is a third party, online reporting tool that allows students to post anonymous accounts of assault online and which currently hosts the accounts of 960,000 students and alumni, according to the Huffington Post. This tool allows students to bypass traditional forms of reporting and gives them control over their ability to report the events and details of a violent incident. The digital platform gives survivors control: They can decide whether to just report their assault or to further escalate it within the platform itself. Dashboards can be modified to display a variety of statistics, ranging from percentage of reported assaults within a particular state, particular university, or even a specific residence.

Especially considering how protective many educational institutions are of their images, some administrators of universities have made their displeasure with being listed on Lighthouse known. In the Huffington Post article it is noted that some schools have publicly announced that they are in no way associated with Lighthouse and do not condone its operations and others, like Duke and Princeton, asked Lighthouse to cease and desist.

As someone who has witnessed the rampancy of rape culture on a college campus, I believe that digital forums that offer survivors alternative and simple ways to share their stories and contribute to data aggregation are vital. Survivors who speak out are generally less interested in publicly slandering their universities as hotbeds of misogyny than they are in accurately documenting their own experiences and contributing to the proper aggregation of sexual assault data (which universities often fail to collect themselves, afraid high numbers will discredit them). All survivors deserve this: To be heard and have their accounts of assault to be properly documented and handled. If Lighthouse helps make this a reality, then universities across the nation should support this.

It’s important to note that, while useful, these tools can only go so far in helping survivors receive justice and heal. Many survivors have said feeling that they have been heard was one of the most crucial aspects for recovery. As one young survivor wrote in Teen Vogue, “Too many people suffer in silence, alienated by society’s taboos, and are left to experience and search for healing with no guidelines or help.”

The night I was assaulted, I didn’t only feel that my body was defiled, but that my spirit was broken. I felt tainted. Jaded. I lost my voice. I found healing only when a select few sat with me, took my hands in their own, and said “I hear you. I believe you.” This validation was a simple, but precious, gift.

I learned so much about human empathy from that person-person experience: I developed the ability to be compassionate with myself in the same likeness. A digital tool alone might not be able to facilitate that crucial process, but if it serves as a gateway to it then it is undeniably valuable.


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