Sometimes you do not realize something needs to change until you are living proof that it does. Senior WCU student Kristina Rowshan is taking strides to change the way sexual assaults are reported—not just on West Chester University’s campus but in the borough of West Chester as well, through the technology created by Callisto, a non-profit organization that is working to combat sexual assault and harassment.
Rowshan has gone through the process of having to report sexual assault and knows how traumatic the experience of reporting can be. “I’m a survivor of sexual assault and I’ve reported two rapes. The first one they were not able to convict him even though I knew exactly who he was … but basically they didn’t have any evidence and the detective said that if we took it to court it would be traumatic and stressful for me and would lead to the judge saying, ‘This is hearsay,’” said Rowshan.
The second time Rowshan reported a rape, she did not tell anyone or report it for a month after it happened. Rowshan explained the justice system prefers a survivor have what she referred to as a “key witness,”: someone a survivor confides in about an assault immediately after it occurs. This helps provide evidence of a timeline and puts trust into the story, says Rowshan.
However, many survivors do not report assaults right away; the average time being 11 months later according to Project Callisto. “There are many reasons why survivors don’t report or delay their reporting. So, one of them is that it takes time for survivors to realize that it was assault. That is what happened the second time with me … I didn’t understand that it was an assault. I think that is a lack of education, we just aren’t educated on what [is or is not assault]. And [survivors] are afraid they won’t be believed that friends or parents will find out … and the fact that victim blaming is so common,” says Rowshan.
According to Project Callisto, 20 percent of women, seven percent of men and 24 percent of trangender and gender nonconforming students are sexually assaulted during college. Furthermore, less than 10 percent of survivors report to their school or the police and 90 percent of perpetrators are repeat offenders.
“This is why this software is so important,” says Rowshan. Callisto provides a solution to all of these concerns. Rowshan states “the website allows students to document or report sexual assault or unwanted sexual contact. There are several different options; it starts with you writing and you write down the details of what happened and they say after someone goes through a trauma the best way to get them to recollect what happened is to give them a pen and paper and have them write it down.”
This option is beneficial because the survivor does not need to immediately speak to someone about what happened. Instead they can write it out and collect their thoughts, allowing them to maintain privacy until they are ready to share what happened. This is something a person can do in the comfort of their own home so they don’t have to go to the police station. What also makes Callisto so great is that even after documenting the incident, the document remains the property of the person that wrote it, and they can choose to not submit it to the system.
“The great thing is it’s time stamped, so if you choose to wait a month it will still be time stamped for the day that it happened so you will have that key witness,” explains Rowshan. From here, a person can choose to send the report to the school authorities as well and the school will reach out with next steps. A person can choose to wait and submit the perpetrator’s name into the Callisto matching system and if the system finds a report stating that the same person was also responsible for another assault the system will compile those reports and send them all at once to the school. The system also informs the individual submitting the report that a match was found and even then the person could decide not to send the report to the police.
It is clear that Callisto is making an impact on the reporting statistics of sexual assault. Survivors that have visited the Callisto website were five times more likely to report to the police or their school than those who did not. On average, survivors created a record within three months of the incident and submitted it for reporting four months after it occurred. Also, about 19 percent of those that created a record also entered their report into the Callisto matching system.
“I can just say from my personal experience, my story would have ended so much better if I had something like this around. I would have gone through a lot less emotional trauma than I had to go through and I think this really takes down a lot of barriers…it really encourages reporting and it is free. It doesn’t cost money to implement. There is no reason not to [implement this],” says Rowshan.
Rowshan feels so strongly and has felt so inspired by this platform that she not only wants to implement it on WCU’s campus, but in the borough of West Chester. Rowshan originally met with Mayor Diane Herrin to discuss bringing the system to WCU, but upon meeting Herrin suggested the system should be implemented across the borough. Rowshan reached out to Callisto, and West Chester borough is currently on the waitlist for the borough software. It should be released by the end of this summer.
Rowshan’s next steps include starting a petition that she will present to WCU’s Public Safety. Rowshan’s only concern is that this system would increase reporting rates at the school: something a school would not want to be known for. However, Rowshan wants to emphasize that these sexual assaults are going to happen whether they are being reported or not. They are happening and they are not being reported. “These are human beings we are talking about … these are human lives we need to put [the increase of reporting] aside and maybe we can be recognized as a school that took action about sexual assault and actually did something about it,” says Rowshan. It is time to have an honest conversation.
If you are interested in learning more about Project Callisto, watch the TED Talk “The Sexual Assault Reporting System Survivors Want.” Also, if you are interested in helping Kristina Rowshan bring this system to WCU and the West Chester borough or you would like to join her private support group for survivors, she encourages you to reach out to her at KR838848@wcupa.edu.
Kaitlin Brinker is a fourth-year communication studies major with a minor in journalism. ✉ KB835149@wcupa.edu.