St. FX adopts new online platform for reporting sexual violence on campus
Students and staff at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., will now have more ways to report on-campus sexual violence.
They will soon be able to access a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week online reporting and information platform called REES (Respect, Educate, Empower Survivors), designed by a Canadian tech company called REES Technology Group Inc.
“If you’re trying to access some kind of support on campus, instead of going up to a stranger’s office and telling your story, saying what happened, it’s as easy as going to this platform,” said Meredith Cudmore-Keating, vice-president of academic affairs for St. FX’s student union.
The founder and CEO of REES Technology Group Inc., Mary Lobson, has been involved in the gender-based violence field for 30 years. She says gender-based violence continues to be one of the most prevalent issues in Canada, so she wanted to try to help by creating REES, which launched last year.
“While other violent crimes have gone down, sexual violence hasn’t gone down. We know that only about five percent of people actually report to police,” said Lobson. “We really wanted to reduce barriers to reporting by creating increased pathways for people to report.”
So far, REES has partnered with 11 post-secondaries in Manitoba, two in British Columbia and one in Ontario. St. FX is the first university in Nova Scotia to adopt an anonymous reporting platform.
According to Statistics Canada, 71 per cent of post-secondary students witnessed or experienced unwanted sexualized behaviours in 2019, while 11 percent of women students reported being sexually assaulted in a post-secondary setting over the previous year.
In 2018, an 18-year-old freshman from the Toronto area studying at St. FX alleged that a fellow student sexually assaulted her. In another case in 2019, two former St. FX football players were accused of sexual assault and ultimately acquitted.
The REES online platform works by allowing students and faculty to share their experiences with sexual violence via the website, where they can choose to disclose their information or remain anonymous.
Once logged in with a username or email, users are presented with multiple-choice questions where they can choose to share as much or as little information as they feel comfortable.
They will then be able to file an anonymous report, connect to resources on campus or even file a police report.
‘Repeat perpetrator feature’
There will also be something called the “repeat perpetrator feature,” which allows St. FX to store data about those who have been reported multiple times to REES for on-campus sexual violence.
Lobson says all data stored is encrypted and only viewable by the school, and the data collected can be used to make real change on campus.
“The data provides good insight. There may be particular events that are problematic or times of year,” said Lobson. “They may find that there’s information about drug and alcohol-facilitated violence, so they could potentially run an awareness campaign or identify training gaps or an institution.”
People are also able to use the site like a diary. They can write out incidents that may have occurred but do not necessarily have to send it until they’re ready, if ever. It’s something sexual assault nurse examiner Heather Blackburn hopes will encourage more students at St. FX to share their stories.
“I am the person assigned here to be that safe disclosure site, but we recognize that there’s a lot of barriers to disclosing and reporting sexualized violence,” said Blackburn, who is also the sexual violence prevention and response advocate at St. FX.
“Our goal is always to try and work to find new ways of reaching students, staff and faculty, and to reduce those barriers.”
Lobson says getting REES into university campuses is the first goal, but the company is open to expanding the platform further.
“We created this so it could be adapted for use across sectors and industries,” said Lobson. “We’re having some conversations with municipalities and public transit and with corporate sector workplaces, so it can really be used broadly across different systems.”
Blackburn says promoting the new platform will be ongoing and she hopes REES will help to bolster the existing sexual-violence resources St. FX already has.
“We recognize that although we do have people coming to my office to disclose and report sexual violence, but there are likely many more folks that remain silent that may not have access or know that there are services and supports available to them,” said Blackburn.
“We’re really hoping that an anonymous online platform fits a niche need that our in-person services may not be meeting.”