Tech advancements for reporting sexual violence on campuses | REES

Tech advancements for reporting sexual violence on campuses

Contributed by: Mary Lobson, REES Community for CURIE Newsletter Fall 2023

Post-secondary institutions are embracing digital transformation and adopting technology to enhance learning experiences, improve administrative efficiency and gather data that enables them to stay competitive in a rapidly changing educational landscape.

Innovation is also crucial for addressing campus sexual violence as it can lead to more effective prevention, reporting, support, and accountability. Online training for students and staff can enhance prevention and education efforts through interactive and engaging online courses about consent and bystander intervention. There are also increased options for awareness and community engagement using social media, virtual reality simulations, gamified training modules, and interactive storytelling can help engage students and increase collective responsibility about sexual violence more effectively.

Until recently, options to report sexual violence have remained consistent across campuses with predominantly in-person reporting, an email address, and a phone number. Some institutions have developed online forms while others have expanded use of their existing case management platform to include sexual misconduct.

In 2019, Stats Canada released the Survey on Individual Safety in the Post-secondary Student Population that revealed 71% of students either witnessed or experienced unwanted sexualized behaviours in a post- secondary setting. Schools have the responsibility to create safe learning environments and reduce barriers to reporting by those that experience harm. While more institutions 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.

Offering an email address to report harm has, historically, been the go-to online reporting option for most institutions. Email reporting places the responsibility on the survivor to consider what information they should include about their incident and how much detail is required. They have to write out the details of their harm and send to what often is a generic email address. Additionally email communication is not, by default, encrypted and can be intercepted or accessed by unauthorized individuals if proper security measures are not in place.

Similar to email, an open textbox asks 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.

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.

Reporting options should limit 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.

By collecting information about survivors’ experiences and harm that is occurring on campus, an institution has the unique opportunity to gather data about sexual violence incidents and use this information to identify patterns, trends and inform prevention efforts.

Some schools require survivors to use their academic email addresses to log in to the institution website. This often is a barrier to reporting and raises concerns about tracking and use of cookies. It also removes the option of truly anonymous reporting ad there is identifying information gathered.

Some 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 ad- dresses, 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.”

Post-secondary 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. As technology evolves so too does the opportunity for innovation to support student and employees and enhance prevention efforts. REES (Respect, Educate, Empower Survivors) is Canada’s leading platform for reporting sexual violence. The trauma-informed approach allows students and employees to create one record of their incident and choose from multiple reporting options such as Anonymous Report, Connect to My Campus, Formal Complaint and Report to HR. This functionality minimizes the times a user has to re-tell their story and can reduce barriers to coming forward. The system also has a Repeat Perpetrator Identification feature.

The REES Message Centre offers users the ability to opt-in for bidirectional communication with the institution so they can connect via a chat feature to ask questions and receive support or information while remaining anonymous.

In the REES Back Office, designated contacts on cam- pus can view Weekly Activity Summary, Anonymous Reports, create Case Notes and communication directly with anonymous users. REES is a centralized reporting and resource hub that can be customized for any campus.

Contact to learn more.

Woman working on laptop
In 2019, 71% of students either witnessed or experienced unwanted sexualized behaviours in a post-secondary setting