How a smartphone app can help rape victims too traumatized to call police
Victims of sexual assault who are too traumatized to immediately go to police now have a tool that can allow them to later help investigators.
A new smartphone app targeted at college students allows victims to record details of what happened.
Michael Lissack, executive director at the Massachusetts-based Institute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence, which conducted research that led to the I've-Been-Violated app, said it's part of the Institute's WE-CONSENT suite of apps designed to help colleges and their students better deal with issues of sexual consent and sexual assault.
About 85 percent of sexual assault victims are not ready to talk to authorities immediately after an incident.
"The authorities want you to talk to them with 24 or 48 hours, but most of the victims that have been traumatized in this way are not ready to do that," Lissack said.
I've-Been-Violated uses the phone as a private, safe space for victims to record audio and video of their story once they are in a safe place. Lissack said the app gently guides the user, asking them their name, who violated them, what happened and what would they like to show the phone.
"When you finish recording the video, we double-encrypt it, have it secured offline, where we can guard the chain of custody," Lissack said.
He added that the app gives the victim control when they decide they are ready talk to authorities.
"Only the authorities can retrieve the video, so when they retrieve the video — again, with that guarded chain of custody — they know it's good evidence, and that relieves a large portion of what I'll call the 'second trauma,' which is the poor victim being questioned about his or her credibility and why they waited, and what happened to their story, etc.," Lissack said.
Lissack said the app is a "good first step" for victims to begin talking about what happened.
"If you talk to your friends and you haven't talked to the authorities, then your friends get subjected to the credibility test," he said.
While the video would be useful in an investigation, it could not be used as evidence in a courtroom unless the victim is ready to take the stand and testify that they made the video, Lissack said.
Lissack said a student's privacy also would be protected because the video belongs to the app user, not the university, which means it would not be subject to public-records requests at a public school.