The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

'I've-Been-Violated' App Wants To Help Rape Survivors Report Sexual Assault

By Mae Rice in News on Jan 22, 2016 8:44PM

Photo via Cubmundo on Flickr

If you need to report a sexual assault, there's an app for that. There's also a consensual sex app, if you're looking for one of those.

A Boston-based educational non-profit, the Institute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence (ISCE), has created a new suite of apps to simplify sexual assault reporting and encourage an “only yes means yes” philosophy of consent.

The apps could roll out on three Chicago campuses—though ICSE executive director Michael Lissack wasn't at liberty to name which specific ones, since no firm agreements have been reached yet—as early as fall of 2016, after an initial pilot program. The apps propose not only to help protect students from sexual violence, but to also protect schools from Title IX complaints around sexual assault.

The most widely available app, which anyone can download for free in the Apple app store, is the I’ve-Been-ViolatedTM app, meant for people who have been assaulted and want to file away "contemporaneous evidence" without yet submitting a police report.

To use the app, users simply go to a safe place as soon as possible after an assault, turn on the app and follow its prompts to video record their account of what happened while it’s still fresh in their mind. This geotagged, time-stamped video then gets double-encrypted and stored where no one except the appropriate authorities can access it. That means even users and app personnel can't access it.

What falls under the "appropriate authorities" umbrella? A court order, a police department request, and a verifiable request from a university holding a Title IX hearing, according to Lissack.

This app solves two problems: the issue of fallible human memories, and the issue of victim credibility when reporting assaults after substantial time has passed.

As Lissack put it to Chicagoist, “Stories do change over time… We forget things. Trauma causes us to block things out. The idea we’re a machine and can recite the same story a year or two later is complete nonsense., and that does not mean anybody intentionally changed their stories.’

The app also alleviates what Lissack calls “the credibility gap,” an issue facing victims who report their sexual assaults, but not immediately. “[Police] ask you why you waited and how much you think you changed your story,” Lissack said. “The police would not be doing their job if they were not questioning the story and the credibility.”

The app could also create a problem for victims who want to retract a report after the police have subpoenaed their video, Lissack said. However, police very rarely conduct a sexual assault investigations when a victim isn't cooperating, he said—usually only if they're investigating a serial perpetrator.

So far, hundreds of videos have been uploaded to the I've-Been-ViolatedTM app, though none have been requested by authorities yet, Lissack said. He suspects most are trial runs, but he has “no idea what’s in them... we’ll never know.”

In the pilot programs that could come to select Chicago campuses representatives from ISCE would meet with students and faculty to plan for a campus-wide rollout of ISCE’s entire suite of apps in the fall of 2016.

“You want to make it so when the students arrive in the fall, it’s everywhere and it’s seamless,” Lissack explained.

The suite includes not only I've-Been-ViolatedTM, but assorted other apps, including one to help say no to prospective romantic partners who are overly-persistent but not malicious, and another one to document consent.

The “yes app,” as Lissack calls it, asks the initiator to state their name and the name of the person they want to get sexy with; then it requires them to film a video of that person saying that “yes,” they consent to this. (The video, like the I've-Been-ViolatedTM videos, is encrypted and stored.)

“If the ‘yes app’ is a success, it will be downloaded, discussed, and never used,” Lissack said. “Which drives the tech reporters crazy.”

At the same time, he says it only takes about 20 seconds to use, and is intended to be used before a sexual encounter begins—so, he argues, it’s not as awkward as it might sound.

As for how the apps were made, “We do not have any female developers,” Lissack said. “Were women being consulted all the way along the way? Yes. Were they doing the programming? No.”