Content warning: This story mentions rape and sexual assault. Callisto Vault is one of the latest free resources for college students who have experienced sexual violence. Unlike other resources, Callisto uses encryption technology to ensure that repeat offenders will be held accountable and empowers survivors regardless of whether or not they choose to report their experience.
Callisto Vault launched during the fall of the 2021-2022 academic year and provides tools for survivors of sexual violence to securely document an assault or match with others harmed by the same perpetrator, regardless of whether or not they choose to report the incidents.
Sexual assault among college students is something that’s unfortunately all too common; among undergraduate students, 26.4% of women experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation, according to a January 2020 study by the Association of American Universities. Additionally, 13% of both graduate and undergraduate students, regardless of their gender identity, experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.
Back-to-school season also marks the start of the Red Zone, which is the peak season for sexual assault on college campuses. This zone indicates a period when students on campus are most vulnerable to sexual assault, lasting from the beginning of the fall semester to Thanksgiving break.
How does Callisto work?
Callisto is an important resource for college students because it can provide advice and help students decide what to do next, even if they’re unsure about publicly acknowledging what happened. Callisto has two different reporting options for survivors to choose from. The first option is their matching system, where survivors provide the state in which the assault occurred, any unique identifiers for the perpetrator (like their social handles or phone numbers), and contact information in case there is a match, so they can be contacted by a legal options counselor.
After providing their information, survivors can determine whether others have been harmed by the same person without having to publicly disclose any information. If two or more survivors enter the same unique identifier, a match will occur, and the matched survivors receive free and confidential legal options counseling; each survivor then decides what they want to do next. “While we’re not holding perpetrators accountable,” says Tracy DeTomasi, the CEO of Callisto, “we empower survivors to do what they want to do and amplify their voice.”
The second reporting option is to document an assault. Callisto’s assault log allows survivors to create a detailed and timestamped record of their sexual assault as they decide what steps they might want to take, if any. The tool can be used as a reference if they choose to report the assault, but it can also be used to process the trauma.
“We don’t really ask what happens, so the only three things that survivor needs to put into the system is the state in which the assault occurred, the unique identifier of the perpetrator, so their social media handle email address or phone number, and they consent to be contacted by legal options counselor,” DeTomasi said. “We really allow the survivor to define what happened to them.”
Sexual assault generally falls into three categories: penetration crimes, contact with genitalia or other intimate body parts, or exposure of genitalia or other intimate body parts, Self reported. If a situation doesn’t pertain to one of the three categories, like sexual harassment, it might not be a crime.
“There’s a lot of sexual assault that happens what we kind of call awful, but lawful,” DeTomasi says. “So it might not raise to the level of criminal or civil sexual assault, but it’s still really violent, and it can still be really traumatic.”
Each state defines consent, rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse differently, according to RAINN, so it’s possible for an assault to fall within that “awful but lawful” area. “Having worked with offenders, how they perpetrate can be really similar and there is a pattern,” DeTomasi says. “They typically do the same type of tactics and so you’ll see that pattern.”
Callisto is separate from your university’s Title IX office.
Although it can be stress-inducing to even recount what happened, Callisto provides a space where students can decide what steps they want to take, without having to speak face-to-face with someone like a Title IX administrator. A university’s Title IX office requires schools to publish procedures for students who file sex discrimination complaints, which includes sexual harassment or violence, according to the United States Department of Education.
That means when a student wants to report an assault, they must contact their school’s Title IX investigation office and meet with an investigator, who will decide whether or not to open an investigation. But according to the American Psychological Association, not all students trust Title IX, as there’s a fear of schools minimizing the assault, or being unwilling or unable to address it. “Now we give students and anybody with a .edu address access, regardless of the school wants to have access,” DeTomasi adds.
Oftentimes, college students feel more comfortable talking to their friends about sexual assault rather than reporting it. Callisto has an ambassador program for that very reason, so college students who are looking to get involved can educate others on the organization’s mission.
“While we don’t have formal partnerships, it really helps if we can get into freshman orientation as a resource. It can help if we’re listed on the website as a resource. It can help if students can put posters around campus,” DeTomasi says. “The more the administration buys into it, and accepts it, and supports it, the more this resource can be used and more highly advertised on campus.”
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit hotline.rainn.org.