Hannah is excited to be going to college. She couldn't wait to get out of her parents' house, to prove to them that she's an adult, and to prove to her new friends that she belongs.
She heads to a campus party where she sees a guy that she has a crush on. Let's call him Mike. The next day, Hannah wakes up with a pounding headache. She can only remember the night in flashes. But what she does remember is throwing up in the hall outside Mike's room and staring at the wall silently while he was inside her, wanting it to stop, then shakily stumbling home. She doesn't feel good about what happened, but she thinks, "Maybe this is just what sex in college is?"
One in five women and one in 13 men will be sexually assaulted at some point during their college career in the United States. Less than 10 percent will ever report their assault to their school or to the police. And those who do, on average, wait 11 months to make the report.
Hannah initially just feels like dealing with what happened on her own. But when she sees Mike taking girls home from parties, she's worried about them.
After graduation, Hannah learns that she was one of five women who Mike did the exact same thing to. And this is not an unlikely scenario because 90 percent of sexual assaults are committed by repeat offenders. But with such low reporting rates, it's fairly unlikely that even repeat perpetrators will be reported, much less anything happen if they are.
In fact, only six percent of assaults reported to the police end with the assailant spending a single day in prison. Meaning, there's a 99 percent chance that they'll get away with it. This means there's practically no deterrent to assault in the United States.
Now, I'm an infectious disease epidemiologist by training. I'm interested in systems and networks and where we can concentrate our resources to do the most good. So this, to me, is a tragic but a solvable problem.
So when the issue of campus assault started hitting the news a few years ago, it felt like a unique opportunity to make a change. And so we did. We started by talking to college survivors. And what they wish they'd had in college is pretty simple; they wanted a website, one they could use at the time and place that felt safest to them with clearly written information about their reporting options, with the ability to electronically report their assault, rather than having the first step to go in and talk to someone who may or may not believe them. With the option to create a secure, timestamped document of what happened to them, preserving evidence even if they don't want to report yet. And lastly, and perhaps most critically, with the ability to report their assault only if someone else reported the same assailant. You see, knowing that you weren't the only one changes everything. It changes the way you frame your own experience, it changes the way you think about your perpetrator, it means that if you do come forward, you'll have someone else's back and they'll have yours.
We created a website that actually does this and we launched it [...] in August, on two college campuses.
And we included a unique matching system where if Mike's first victim had come forward, saved her record, entered into the matching system and named Mike, and Mike's second victim had done the same thing a few months later, they would have matched and the verified contact information of both survivors would have been sent to the authorities at the same time for investigation and follow up.
If a system like this had existed for Hannah and her peers, it's more likely that they would have reported, that they would have been believed, and that Mike would have been kicked off campus, gone to jail, or at least gotten the help that he needed. And if we were able to stop repeat offenders like Mike after just their second assault following a match, survivors like Hannah would never even be assaulted in the first place. We could prevent 59 percent of sexual assaults just by stopping repeat perpetrators earlier on. And because we're creating a real deterrent to assault, for perhaps the first time, maybe the Mikes of the world would never even try to assault anyone.
The type of system I'm describing, the type of system that survivors want is a type of information escrow, meaning an entity that holds on to information for you and only releases it to a third party when certain pre-agreed upon conditions are met, such as a match. The application that we built is for college campuses. But the same type of system could be used in the military or even the workplace.
We don't have to live in a world where 99 percent of rapists get away with it. We can create one where those who do wrong are held accountable, where survivors get the support and justice they deserve, where the authorities get the information they need, and where there's a real deterrent to violating the rights of another human being.