Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Rethinking Sexual Violence Reporting: A Web Tool That Facilitates Reporting of Sexual Assaults on College and University Campuses Has Been Implemented at Four Universities

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Rethinking Sexual Violence Reporting: A Web Tool That Facilitates Reporting of Sexual Assaults on College and University Campuses Has Been Implemented at Four Universities

Article excerpt

In 2014, Dr. Penny Smith created Keys to Coping, an online sexual assault reporting tool, hoping to transform the way colleges and universities handle reports of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking on their campuses.

The web-based tool is newly modified to increase victim support for students, bystander intervention training and risk mitigation for institutions, even as the Department of Education debates potential rollbacks to Obama-era Title IX policies regarding reporting and investigating sexual assaults on campus.

Smith, president and CEO of Alegria Technologies and a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence, made it her mission to break the silence surrounding sexual assaults on college campuses and universities.

The former higher education administrator says she realized that colleges were scrambling for prevention options, rather than reporting options. After speaking to administrators at nearly 60 institutions, Smith says she realized schools were concerned that a technology tool like Keys to Coping would increase the number of reports, "thereby making them appear to not be safe," she says.

The doubts almost forced Smith to "shut down the whole company," she adds. However, she attempted to shift the paradigm from '"We need to break the silence' to 'It's OK to know ... and the more you know, the more [assaults] you can prevent.'"

In the four schools that have implemented the Keys to Coping tool--Central State University, Kentucky State University, Delta State University and Lincoln University--student feedback shows that the reporting tool is making a difference.

At Central State, the tool's pilot site, 60 percent of students responded that Keys to Coping changed their views for the better regarding how the administration handles campus sexual assault prevention and intervention, Smith says.

"Since the implementation of Keys to Coping, we are starting to see an influx in reporting," says Dr. Stephanie L. Krah, vice president for student affairs and enrollment management at Central State. "This is a good thing because we are able to assist survivors with getting the necessary support early."

She says that students are also more aware of key points of contact they can go to if or when an incident occurs.

There are three steps to using the tool: First, users should go to their school's personalized Keys to Coping URL link; second, they must register their accounts; and, third, they must answer 22 questions.

Anyone at an institution can submit a sexual assault report--students, bystanders, faculty, or administrators. And if individuals choose to withhold their names and remain anonymous, they must still use valid email addresses to submit their reports.

"We specifically set up questions that, in a typical forensic interview, don't get addressed," Smith says. The answer options range from drop-down selections to free responses, and an individual has the choice to "answer some, all, (or) a few" of the questions on the online reporting tool.

The report also allows a person to capture and describe any injuries using a blank image of an anatomical human figure. "This is important for prosecution purposes," and especially for women of color, Smith says, whose injuries often don't show and may go unreported in prosecutions of rape.

She emphasizes that it is very important for people to identify everything, "whether it's a scratch, a bruise," and to help students understand that an injury doesn't have to be as extreme as a black eye, a broken arm or deadly injuries. When a person submits a report, the individual and the institution's "super user"--usually the Title IX director--both receive a date- and time-stamped PDF copy of the report. If an individual wishes to update the report, he or she can log back in, answer a question or change an answer and receive a new, time-stamped copy. …

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