App Aims To Be A One-Stop Shop For Campus Sexual Assault Survivors

Schools need to make more resources available, and ReachOut hopes to make it easier

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Mar 09, 2017 at 11:12 AM ET

According to the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, information about sexual assault should be no more than four clicks away from every school’s home page. Yet a surprising number of colleges still don’t include this information anywhere at all, and many that do have it scattered in different places.

Now, an app aims to help survivors of college sexual assaults navigate the process of reporting crimes and healing from them.

Reach Out aims to mitigate the common obstacles survivors face in the aftermath of an attack with campus-specific resources for over 2,300 colleges and universities. It offers resources on how to file reports with administrators and the police, receive medical care, and speak with a mental health professional. Schools can also purchase an upgraded feature that allows students to anonymously report these events to police or school administrators directly through the platform.

Reach Out was created by four longtime friends who finished college just as the issue hit its pinnacle in the news cycle because of high-profile events like a Columbia University student’s “Carry That Weight” performance art piece, and the now-rescinded UVA gang rape accusation, among others. Last summer, its creators launched the app after creating a large database for hundreds of colleges and reaching out to representatives of these schools.

“We thought, ‘we can do something about this,'” said Zach Csillag, marketing manager of Reach Out parent company Capptivation. “Our goal became to create an app that could empower our peers with information. It seemed obvious to us.”

The larger aim of the app is to help schools get campus sexual assault information to students in the easiest possible way. For example, Marquette University began using the app in January, at the behest of the school’s Title IX deputy coordinator Cara Hardin. In addition to offering the standard resources built into the app, Marquette’s page also offers resources for students accused, a full breakdown of the Title IX complaint process, and the school’s specific retaliation policy.

“The data supports the fact that sexual assault is a grossly underreported on college campuses. What colleges are struggling with is how we get the information out to our constituents to let them know we can help provide support and resources,” she said.

The app’s prompts include messaging that “there is no ‘right’ way to get help after a sexual assault.” Abigail Boyer, associate executive director of programs for the campus safety non-profit Clery Center, notes that this messaging is important. The Clery Center was created after a 19-year-old college student was raped and murdered in her dorm room 31 years ago.

“Every survivor and campus community is different, so whether or not a survivor feels comfortable reporting and how they choose to do so may really depend on the culture within that particular campus community,”  Boyer told Vocativ in an e-mail. The visibility of school resources is one major determinant of how students perceive campus culture, she said.

While the creators of Reach Out began this project by sourcing all of the information themselves, school Title IX administrators can now directly update and customize their pages and direct their students straight to the app at opportune times like freshman orientations.

There are already a number of apps pertaining to sexual assault available, like the “high-tech rape whistle,” which purports to send campus police officers to the scene of a crime after its alert function (worn by the victim) is activated. One criticism of such “solutions,” however, is that they typically undermine the larger issue, putting the onus on victims to prevent these crimes from happening to them in the first place.

In addition to Reach Out’s current function as a means of helping survivors after an attack has already taken place, Csillag says that the company is looking to bring high schools into the project so that students can learn about how to handle and prevent campus assault before entering college.

“Education and resources and support need to start well before students get to college. A lot of the solutions out there are bandaid solutions based on a problem that is already happening,” he said.