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Sexual Assault on College Campuses: A New Approach


As of November 4, 2015, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights was investigating 175 cases involving sexual violence at 146 post-secondary schools. This statistic, among others, reinforces what many college students and administrators already know: sexual assault is still a huge problem on college campuses today, despite the increased attention and resources that have been paid to the issue in recent years.

In an effort to comply with Title IX, the federal statute prohibiting gender discrimination by education programs that receive federal funding, universities and colleges seek to create campuses free of sexual violence or face penalties, including but not limited to loss of federal funds.

Creating safer campuses has meant embracing technology in adaptive ways. Some colleges and universities have introduced mobile apps that enable students to see maps pinpointing local crime hot spots, and to report suspicious activity wherever it occurs to continually update the maps. Other mobile apps allow students to request rides from campus security services. Even more creative are apps that allow friends to track friends' movements virtually as they walk home from studying or a party late at night alone. The continuous feedback of the friend's whereabouts in real time not only mean that people would instantly know that their friend was in trouble, but they would also know exactly where to send help.

There is a new digital weapon in the fight against sexual violence on college campuses. It is a website called "Callisto," which allows people who have survived a sexual assault to report it online and therefore preserve the record and details of the offense even if they choose not to report it at that time. The site gives the reporter anonymity and control over the reporting process, something that many traumatized survivors find they need. The site time-stamps the record, stores it, and also provides a matching system which will track and identify an attack by the same assailant. In some cases, once there is another assault linked to the same attacker, a person is more likely to report the assault; the thinking process is that two or more attacks by the same assailant lend credibility to the report, and a repeat offender is a danger to the community at large, not just to the person contemplating reporting. The site also offers colleges and universities concrete data on a problem that is so often lacking in that resource.

As of now, Callisto is not subscribed to by many schools, but it is new and still in its trial phase. The tech start-up has received funding from, Google's philanthropic branch, and other private donors. But Callisto is not without its controversies. While its matching system can provide useful data about repeat offenders and serial rapists, the idea that corroboration is necessary for credibility, or that a second sexual assault should be used as corroboration at all, is disturbing. A second sexual assault--and victim--should be avoided at all costs, not waited for to bolster the credibility of the first attack.


The feature-length documentary film titled "The Hunting Ground" debuted at this year's Sundance Film Festival in January. The premise of the film was that all young women on college campuses today are in danger of being assaulted by sexual predators and serial rapists, and that college administrators, faculty and campus police do not investigate reports of sexual assault as they should due to bias and fear of harm to their school's reputation and funding. The documentary initially made a dramatic impact, but as the cases it highlighted and the claims it made were fact-checked and subject to scrutiny, inconsistencies were revealed.

The film is making its television debut on CNN (the network is one of the producers) on Sunday, November 22 at 8pm EST.


If you or someone you know has survived a sexual assault or incident of sexual violence and want to know your legal rights with respect to injuries sustained, emotional distress, and any time lost at school or work, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm.

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