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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Perfect is not the enemy of good: UW must do better to improve sexual assault reporting

Rejection of Callisto software on basis of imperfection jeopardizes students, ignores the software’s many benefits
Marissa Haegele

In the dramatic and tumultuous stories of Greek Mythology, Callisto was one of the many conquests of Zeus — she was a young nymph who caught the God’s eye, inevitably, as he strayed from his jealous wife Hera. Manipulated by Zeus, she became pregnant and was cast into the stars as a bear, forever imprisoned in the night sky.

The irony of naming a sexual assault reporting software after one of the most famous victims of Zeus should not be lost on us. Callisto, a revolutionary campus software, allows survivors of sexual assault to identify their assailants, timestamp the incident, and — if they are comfortable — send the information to administration officials to begin a report.

Zeus was, in the best possible light, a figure of repeat offenses and violence. He lied, manipulated, seduced and trapped women throughout the mythos. So it is no accident that one of Callisto’s most distinctive tools is its ability to track repeat campus offenders reported through the software.


According to Callisto, an estimated 90 percent of sexual assaults are committed by repeat offenders on campus and more than 85 percent of survivors already know their assailant. If names entered in the system match other reports, information will be sent to the Title IX office.

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In addition to this function, Callisto allows survivors to create encrypted records immediately after the assault, preserving details and time stamps that are not shared externally without their consent. If students wish to pursue an investigation, the software provides access to campus-specific resources and reporting options.

Why spend so much time listing out these benefits? Because in October of last year, the University of Wisconsin rejected this software for campus use, and because despite campus efforts, UW does not currently possess a streamlined process like Callisto for reporting sexual assault.

Most worryingly, there appears to be little effort on behalf of the university to find an alternative.

Last Tuesday, the Student Title IX Advisory Committee at UW issued a press release detailing UW’s rejection of the software. Administration’s criticisms were as follows:

  1. Callisto focuses on reporting sexual assault, as opposed to other kinds of sexual misconduct (such as dating violence or stalking)
  2. Callisto is tailored toward undergraduate students
  3. Callisto is limited if the student “cannot find the perpetrator’s Facebook for matching”

Sexual assault survivors deserve an effective justice system

The Student Title IX Advisory Committee refuted their rationale point by point, noting that not only could Callisto be used by all kinds of students to report many kinds of sexual misconduct — it was currently being used in such a manner by other campuses. Additionally, they noted Callisto offers several ways to identify perpetrators through social media, phone numbers, email addresses or any other details a student might remember.

There are several valid criticisms of implementing the software germane to this conversation. First, the Callisto proposal is privately funded by an alumna for a full three years on campus. Second, the availability of information regarding a survivor’s rights and resources might not be explicitly available within the software.

But UW’s doubts regarding Callisto pale in comparison to reality. Currently, campus has neither a streamlined reporting service of its own, nor a centralized way to access resources about that process, should they want to report. As the committee notes in their press release, the only online reporting form currently available is the Clery Act form, hidden under several different pages and subsections on either the Dean of Students page or the University of Wisconsin Police Department website.  

On campuses where Callisto is available, survivors were three times more likely to seek out campus resources such as medical or emotional support services.  Further, those who used the website were six times more likely to report their assaults than those who did not use Callisto.

The trauma-informed, survivor-based structure has also had a notable impact on the overall reporting timeline. Nationally, students tend to report assaults about eleven months after the assault, while Callisto users average four.

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The rejection of this proposal is, ultimately, a rejection of an imperfect “good.” Callisto offers resources that are not currently available, at little to no cost, in a way that has been statistically proven to improve and clarify the reporting process for survivors. It puts the rights and health of survivors at the center of the investigation while seeking to improve how campuses view and respond to repeat incidents of sexual assault.

In what world is even a half-successful attempt at this goal not somehow worth it? Nobody will argue that Callisto is perfect — every structure involved in sexual assault reporting inevitably has room to grow. But rejecting a proposal for not having greater flexibility is ironic, considering UW has not chosen to bend much at all.  

At the end of the day, the university has the responsibility to propose changes to reporting software. If Callisto is not the right fit for our campus — as noted by a spokesperson for the university — then what is? Where are alternative proposals, or plans for streamlining current reporting processes on campus?

Administration chose to reject the Callisto proposal in October of last year, almost six months ago. But for now it seems perfect will indeed remain both our end-goal, and our enemy.

Julia Brunson ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in history.

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