April 22, 2019 | 56° F

App hopes to help victims of sexual assault

Photo by Dimitri Rodriguez |

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION | A new app by the Institute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence hopes to help victims of sexual assault by letting them record their attacks before they go to the police.

Apps allow students to take notes, communicate and consume media. Now, a new app will help them prevent and report sexual assaults.

Michael Lissack, executive director of the Institute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence, has developed a four-part series of applications including one called, “I’ve Been Violated.”

“This app is part of a suite of apps, the suite is designed to help universities and their students deal with making the shift from the old 'no means no' to only 'yes means yes,'” he said.

Research shows societal changes cannot happen all at once. Behavior can only change when people tweak the context in which the behavior happens, he said.

Most students use their phones, Lissack said. He wanted to take advantage of this to enact change.

The “We Consent App” is designed to record an affirmative yes from a sexual partner. The second app, “What About No,” assists an individual in delivering a strong no to sexual advances, Lissack said.

“After working on those apps, we kept hearing from the victim advocate and survivor community that we were not doing anything for the survivor community,” Lissack said.

Eighty-five percent of victims do not report crimes of sexual assault promptly, he said.

The third app, “I’ve Been Violated,” allows the survivor to record a statement once he or she is in a safe space. 

The app records the incident and a video is taken of the survivor and his or her surroundings. This information is heavily encrypted and is available to the survivor when he or she is ready to talk to authorities, Lissack said.

“Police, in doing their job, have to question your credibility, but if you get a piece of contemporaneous evidence for them to look at, that questioning goes away rather quickly,” he said.

Lissack and his organization are encouraging all college students to download the app for emergency use, he said.

Laura Luciano, assistant director at the Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance, finds apps like these, especially the "I've Been Violated App," problematic.

In the wake of the trauma, survivors do not know what to do, and they freeze, Luciano said. This makes it highly unlikely that survivors would use the app. 

Survivors are often unable to label their experience and delay seeking counseling or reporting the crime. The app does not help them do so, she said.

“This app does not help break down misconceptions about survivors. If I was just raped and I appear very composed and do not seem like I have been traumatized, people might question why I do not seem very upset,” Luciano said.

Sometimes people forget things or remember things differently once they are outside of the immediate crisis. Later statements that a survivor provides to authorities could be different than the statements in the recording, she said.

The app could work against a survivor who does decide to report if they provide evidence that is inconsistent with the audio recording, she said.

“(What) would be helpful is making sure law enforcement is trained about delayed response, about victim reaction to trauma. We should be training people and providing education about where people can go in the immediate aftermath,” Luciano said.

Marla Narowski, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year, said she will not download the app. She believes that in the wake of trauma, she would prefer to confide in a human rather than an application.

In instances of sexual violence, the survivor is the main witness, she said. The job of police is to gather evidence about crime and investigate. The evidence they find in that investigation will determine credibility.

“I would like to see better training for law enforcement in how to effectively investigate sexual assault cases, knowing you have to talk to people who know the suspect or look at prior relationships the person has had, the app does not help that,” Luciano said.


Francesca Petrucci is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum. Find her on Twitter @TheFranWeekly for more.

Francesca Petrucci

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