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How I help sexual assault survivors feel like they’re not on trial

As a survivor of sexual assault, Jessica Ladd found the process of reporting the incident “more traumatic than the assault itself.” By creating an online reporting system, she is now helping survivors document their experiences, even if they’re not ready to go to the authorities. Ladd offers her Brief but Spectacular take on empowering survivors of sexual assault.

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  • Jess Ladd:

    So, when I was in high school, I started binge-reading romance novels in my local library.

    And I read every single romance novel that the branch had. And I came into college being sort of very excited about this thing that everyone talked about and I read about called sex.

    And then, when my first time happened, it was against my consent. It was without my consent. It was with a friend. And it felt like not just the loss of trust in this individual, but also the lose of that kind of first experience, which everybody says you will remember forever, to be something that I don't want to remember forever.

    I went through the reporting process over a year after my assault, and actually found the process of reporting to be more traumatic than the assault itself. I felt like I wasn't believed. The policeman told me there is two sides to every story, and he handed me brochures on couple's counseling.

    With sexual assault, the person on trial is often the survivor, to see if people believe them that a crime actually occurred. And what people then ask is not, who did it, but are you sure that it happened?

    For a lot of survivors, there's a big fear that you won't be believed. Only 6 percent of assaults reported to police end with the assailant spending a single day in prison. And that's not because survivors don't know their assailant; 85 percent of college survivors know their assailant.

    It's really that it's hard to meet the standard of evidence that we need in sexual assault cases to make a conviction.

    Right now, at a lot of college campuses, the way an interview will go is, you come in to report your assault, you sit down, and the investigator, Title IX coordinator across the table will write down your account of what happened to you.

    It's likely that if somebody else is writing down your story for you, they're going to get something in it wrong, and it's going to end up being used against you, because now you changed your story, when, actually, all you did was change who you were talking to.

    Callisto is an online sexual assault reporting system for college sexual assault survivors. They can use it to just save a time-stamped record of their assault, so they can preserve evidence, even if they don't want to report yet.

    With the ability to create these time-stamped records, we can get far more accurate information from the survivors themselves to be used in an investigation later, and we can shorten the time between when they're assaulted and when they actually document the details of what happened to them.

    Ninety percent of sexual assaults are committed by repeat assailants, who on average commit six assaults each, and that's just before they graduate college.

    But, as a survivor, you have no real way of knowing whether or not you're the only one. If they know that it happened to someone else too, they feel like, wow, maybe that wasn't all my fault. Maybe all of those excuses that I have been building up in my head as well — I did agree to go home with him, so maybe it's my fault, or, well, I did flirt earlier, so maybe it's my fault, or, well, I was the one who got myself drunk, so maybe it's my fault — start to fall away, when you realize that that same thing happen to somebody else, and you don't blame them.

    I would like a recent victim to know that I believe them and that there is life after this, that life keeps going, and you will find people who love you. And while you might feel very, very alone, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't try trusting the people around you.

    And a lot of them will probably surprise you. A lot of them will have your back. And, if they don't, I will.

    My name is Jess Ladd, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on empowering survivors of sexual assault.

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