Smartphone Apps to Report Sexual Assaults

By Kanika Ferency posted 10-08-2018 09:08


In the era of #MeToo, individuals are more willing to share their own experiences of sexual harassment and sexual assault. A crop of new local and national apps now allows victims to report incidents of sexual harassment and assault from their smartphones. The thought behind the apps is that it is less traumatizing for victims to report when they are ready from the comfort of their phones than to report face-to-face. Some reporting apps can even encrypt the victim’s identity.

Loyola University in Chicago has created an app, Here for You, that attempts to dispel myths about sexual violence with material and connects students with available resources on campus and in the Chicago area. It also provides students with information on options for reporting incidents. Callisto, a nationwide app for purchase by individual colleges, provides student victims with three options: (1) to write the report and preserve evidence to be used at a place or time that is best for the victim, (2) to report the incident directly to their institution to trigger an investigation or a consultation, or (3) to identify an alleged perpetrator and if another victim names the same perpetrator, the college’s Title IX coordinator will reach out to the survivors individually.

Other apps allow anyone on campuses or in the workplace to use them free of cost. The majority of revenue for the apps comes from lawyers who pay for access to “potentially lucrative civil claims.” These lawyers agree to take the cases on a contingency basis, and the app takes a small cut of a settlement. This type of setup could raise ethical concerns in Michigan. The State Bar of Michigan recently published Ethics Opinion R-25, which discusses online services that match prospective clients with lawyers. It states in part:

Participation in a for-profit online matching service which for a fee matches prospective clients with lawyers constitutes an impermissible sharing of fees with a nonlawyer if the attorney’s fee is paid to and controlled by the nonlawyer.

But regardless of the revenue model of these individual apps and their reporting capabilities, the apps offer both another tool for individuals to help protect themselves as well as a means for colleges and communities to provide resources and increase their accessibility to students who have experienced sexual harassment or assault.