Can technology help curb sexual assault on campus?

Can mobile applications truly reduce the number of sexual assaults and rapes that take place on the nation’s college campuses?

Designing for Title IX Compliance

According to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), under Title IX, a school has a duty to resolve complaints promptly and equitably and to provide a safe and nondiscriminatory environment for all students, free from sexual harassment and sexual violence. When a school knows, or reasonably should know, about possible discriminatory harassment (including sexual assault) it must take immediate and appropriate steps to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred, as well as protect the complainant as necessary, including taking interim steps before the final outcome of the investigation.

Knowing this, Mandell-Geller says she specifically designed YES to SEX in a way that would comply with Title IX and help schools more effectively manage, address, and resolve complaints. That meant creating a tool that didn’t store any personal information, that included a compliant privacy policy, and that incorporated specific verbiage on its “consent facts” page, according to Jake Geller, chief marketing officer and director of collegiate partnerships.

The app uses verbal consent that is encrypted and stored using the same method that the Department of Defense uses, according to Mandell-Geller. “All we take is the verbal consent based on ‘safe words,’” she says. The app’s newest, Title IX-compliant “continuous consent” feature allows users to manage ongoing interactions using safe words (which, in turn, will prompt a partner to stop even after consent has been sent via the app).

Beyond Compliance

Looking beyond Title IX compliance, during the development phase Mandell-Geller focused on creating an app that would allow both female and male users to confidently say “no” to sexual advances and to say “yes” in a safe manner. She also incorporated information and education about safe sex practices and how to make the best protection choices at a time when it counts the most. “I felt that was extremely important,” she says, “considering that young people (between the ages of 15 and 24) account for 50 percent of all new sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).”

And knowing that YES to SEX had to appeal to the digital, “real-time” generation, Mandell-Geller says she focused on creating an interface that would be fast (25 seconds or less) and that required no input of personal information. “Once someone uses the app with a partner, he or she doesn’t want anyone else to be able to see that information at a later date,” says Mandell-Geller. “Finally, it had to be free. I knew no one would want to use it if it costs them money or if they have to put their fingerprints on it (i.e., by registering and paying for it).”

A National Tech Initiative

With one in five women sexually assaulted while in college and more than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses never reporting the assault, more universities, government groups, and advocacy organizations are doing their part to help curb sexual assault on campus.

“Sexual violence has no place in society and especially no place in our nation’s schools or on our nation’s college campuses,” said Dorie Nolt, press secretary at the U.S. Department of Education, via email.  “The Obama Administration has worked with technology experts, students, policy makers, and others through data jams and app competitions to help generate new creative ways to use technology to help address sexual assault on campus.”

Nolt says those collaborations include the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, a “Data Jam,” that brought together technology experts to address the issue; and an “Apps Against Abuse” technology competition. The latter took place in 2011 and challenged software designers nationwide to develop innovative applications for mobile devices that would “enhance the safety of young adults by making it easier for them to contact friends and to access important resources for help, including local police and abuse hotlines.”

(Next page: Can an app really curb sexual assault?)

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