January 2021

5 Mistakes Your Institution’s Online Reporting Form for Sexual Violence is Making

Written by REES

As most educational programs and student services are delivered online, many post-secondary institutions have implemented some form of online reporting for survivors of sexual violence. 

Online reporting tools provide an additional way to get in touch with campus remotely, knowing a staff member equipped to handle disclosures of sexual violence is available on the other side of  the screen. While more institutions begin to see the value in online incident reporting, many also make common mistakes that at best, hinder the accessibility and effectiveness of their reporting processes, and at worst, are harmful to survivors.

Disclosing experiences of sexual violence can trigger intense emotions since it requires individuals to recall painful, uncomfortable, or traumatic memories. Institutional reporting mechanisms must be aware of the impacts that re-traumatization can have upon a survivor and design a trauma-informed and survivor-centric approach to handling sexual violence to limit re-traumatization.

1 – The Open Textbox

One of the most common mistakes institutions make when it comes to online reporting is providing little apart from an open textbox, asking the survivor to recount their experience without direction as to what information is considered important. This can discourage survivors who may feel as if they need to disclose every detail of their experience in order to receive supports or make a report. Alternatively, survivors may provide little to no information due to lack of guidance, leading to additional questioning further down the reporting process, and consequently, re-traumatization. 

REES encourages disclosures and limits re-traumatization by guiding the process of disclosing with key questions related to timing, location, and details about the individuals involved. Institutions have an opportunity to utilize this critical  data to make targeted changes informed by trends specific to their campus.

2 – Inability to Save and Edit a Record

Recalling and processing painful experiences can take time. However, when done on a survivor’s own terms, disclosing an experience of sexual violence can be empowering and an important step towards healing. Online reporting forms that do not allow for saving and returning at a later time places unnecessary pressure on the survivor to complete the report form in one session, or risk timing out and losing their progress. 

REES allows an individual to disclose at their preferred pace, saving, editing, and returning to a report as needed. This approach also allows survivors to go back and forth between sections of the form, filling out sections in their preferred sequence. These features are important in returning a sense of control and authority to the survivor over the disclosure and reporting process.

3 – Requiring Repeated Disclosures to access additional reporting options.

A longstanding criticism of institutional reporting processes is that they subject survivors to re-traumatization by placing them in situations where sexual trauma is unnecessarily relived. One example of a re-traumatizing process is the requirement of repeated disclosures of the incident to multiple staff members in order to receive support. 

REES limits the potential for re-traumatization by allowing survivors to access their report after submission and use it to replace verbal disclosures to staff members if needed. Additionally, survivors should be able to use the same submission for multiple reporting purposes, erasing the need for repeated disclosure. A survivor who wishes to disclose to the institution, receive supports, and report to campus police should be able to use a single record of the incident at each of these stages to avoid multiple and potentially re-traumatizing disclosures.

4 – No Systematic Data Collection on important metrics relating to sexual violence

In collecting information about survivors’ experiences, an institution has the unique opportunity to gather data on sexual violence incidents specific to their campus. However, the institution may be missing this opportunity by failing to implement a systematic data collection mechanism within your reporting processes. 

REES collects data on the gender of those involved, relationship between perpetrator and survivor, presence of power dynamics, and use of drugs and alcohol which can inform your prevention activities and identify where efforts are needed in educating the campus community. 

5 – A Lack of Privacy and Security 

Many institutions create their own forms using a platform that has this functionality such as Google Forms. In using these forms, survivors are bound by the third-party provider’s Terms of Service. Concerns about sensitive and potentiality identifying information such as IP addresses, other sites visited, device information, the country data is stored and the loss of ownership over content should raise flags about the security of personal data. 

As one example, Google’s Terms of Services state that “By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.” 

When developing REES, privacy and data security was at the core of all decisions about the features and functions of the platform. All survivor records stored within REES are encrypted and only the survivor holds the key to decryption. A survivor can send their Record as a password protected, encrypted PDF to the designated campus contact who is provided the password so that they can access Connect to My Campus submissions. Each designated contact has their own password. 

Institutions have responsibility to ensure that the supports and resources offered on campus  are trauma-informed, survivor-centred  and adequately safeguard the privacy and security of survivor data.

REES allows an individual to disclose at their preferred pace, saving, editing, and returning to a report as needed.