UT alumna petitions for safer reporting system for sexual assault victims

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Photo Credit: Kelly Smith | Daily Texan Staff
  • UT alumna Tara DeMarco launched a petition on change.org on June 8, calling on Chancellor William McRaven to implement an online reporting system for campus sexual assaults.
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  • DeMarco, a sexual assault survivor, encourages the chancellor to implement Callisto, an online reporting system for sexual assaults on college campuses, through her petition. The petition has gathered over 1,500 signatures. DeMarco also published an open letter to football head coach Charlie Strong on burntorangenation.com, asking that he not allow football players accused of sexual assault to play in games. The petition even caught the attention of football player Malik Jefferson, who retweeted it.  
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  • Callisto, founded by Jessica Ladd, enables victims to report their assault online before  informing a police officer, preserving their statement in a secure, dated document. The program also provides the option to keep a victim’s report sealed until someone else reports the same assaulter, at which point the victims would be able to see that they were not the only ones victimized by that individual.
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  • “Since most people are assaulted by an acquaintance, not a stranger, survivors often make excuses for their attacker,” DeMarco said in an email. “Finding out you aren't the only one changes how you view the person who assaulted you — as someone with a pattern of violent behavior, rather than a one-time offender. It also gives you more hope that you'll be believed and get an indictment. It lets you know that there's at least one other person in the world who's definitely on your side.”
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  • Although she was assaulted in 2013, after she had graduated from UT, DeMarco felt the need to speak up now about what happened because she felt Callisto could help assault survivors who don’t know how or when to report the incident.
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  • “When I saw Jessica Ladd’s TED Talk [about Callisto], it seemed like an obvious, easy-to-understand solution that people could get behind — a concrete step rather than more vague conversations around (still much needed) research and consent training,” DeMarco said. “I decided it was worth it to share my story if the personal nature of my letter would get more people to read about Callisto.”
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  • Since the petition was launched, Chancellor McRaven and DeMarco have met. DeMarco said McRaven emphasized his own desire to prevent sexual assault on campus through a four-year research study, Cultivating Learning and Safe Environments (CLASE), conducted by the UT System.
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  • CLASE analyzes sexual assault, dating violence, sexual harassment and stalking crimes at 13 campuses in the UT System, according to research associate Leila Wood, who is working on the study.
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  • Wood said there is no single reason why sexual assaults occur on college campuses but that it is a mixture of multiple factors, such as being in a new environment or becoming older and more social. She also said that although society is generally more aware of what sexual assault is, identifying it still remains a problem for some people.  
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  • “Middle schools, high schools are talking more about sexual assault and how to recognize it and what it is, but those conversations are still not happening as regularly as they need to be so that people can identify some of the behaviors that are associated with somebody who is going to be perpetrating a sexual assault,” Wood said.
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  • Title IX Coordinator LaToya Smith said the University created its own online reporting form this academic year based on Callisto. Smith said the original reporting system could not be used because “there’s a lot of information that’s being housed that the University doesn’t own,” such as Facebook login information through the program’s matching feature, which allows assault victims to see if the assailant was reported before by another victim.
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  • “Ensuring that an individual name is also affiliated with our institution based on a social media platform that we do not control was sort of a concern for us,” Smith said. “However, those are things the students really liked so we are taking a look as to how can we implement something like that on our campus and also exploring if Callisto is the best platform to do that or are there other options out there.”