When Jessica Ladd PO ’08 tried to report an incident of sexual assault committed against her to Pomona College, she found the process overwhelming and difficult to navigate.
“I was asked a lot of questions I wasn’t expecting, and I didn’t feel like I understood what was going to happen with the information I was giving them, and that was really scary,” Ladd said.
Seven years after graduating from Pomona, Ladd created Callisto, a website designed to support sexual assault survivors and assist them in reporting of assaults. This year, Pomona and the University of San Francisco became pilot colleges for the program.
Callisto is a project of Sexual Health Innovations, the non-profit company Ladd founded after several years spent working in public policy and attending graduate school for public health.
The main service that Callisto offers is giving students various options on its website to report sexual assault. One option lets students create time-stamped, encrypted records of assaults and save them on the website where not even Callisto’s creators can access these records. Students could then use the records in reporting directly to the school administration at a later time or never take action on it.
Ladd said that this option can help survivors by “making sure that you’re recording all the information you need to and having an external timestamp on it, so that if you do come in, you’re hopefully a little more likely to be taken seriously.”
Survivors can also use Callisto to report assault directly to Pomona’s Title IX coordinator, Daren Mooko. Additionally, survivors can opt in to Callisto’s matching system by inputting the email address or Facebook account of their perpetrator. If another survivor inputs information about the same perpetrator, both survivors will be notified, and the survivors’ contact information will be sent to Mooko.
Ladd and her team conducted about eighteen months of research in developing Callisto. They surveyed people between the ages of 18 and 30 and formed focus groups of sexual assault survivors to get feedback on the website’s design and the types of questions it asked. They also consulted experts on law and trauma.
In 2014, Ladd contacted Pomona to see whether the college would be interested in piloting the program. She met with Mooko and Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum several times to discuss Callisto.
“As Jessica’s ideas became more firm, and they were more in place and solidified, we just became even more convinced that Callisto was a good idea,” Mooko said.
The college’s sexual assault policy and response to survivors came under fire last May after Yenli Wong PO ’15 wrote an op-ed for the Huffington Post criticizing the administration for its grave lack of support for survivors.
Since then, Pomona has held student forums, established the Title IX Committee to review the school’s sexual assault policy, and sent multiple emails to the community emphasizing its continued support and availability of resources for survivors of sexual assault, as reported by TSL on Sept. 18.
Although Feldblum and Mooko discussed Callisto with their counterparts at the other Claremont Colleges, none of the other schools chose to participate in the program.
“Just like us, they had some reservations about such a new idea, and I don’t think they were as far along in the process of being… in favor to it as Pomona was,” Mooko said.
According to Mooko, the reactions to Callisto have been favorable so far. Ladd said that students at both Pomona and University of San Francisco have already created accounts on the website.
Pomona’s Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault also received training in using the website. Advocates Cleo Spencer PO ’16 and Willa Hevley PO ’17 said that Callisto is now on their list of resources to offer survivors.
“It’s empowering and giving power back to the survivor, which is really the most important thing in our work,” Spencer said.
According to Ladd, Callisto also has the potential to improve sexual assault prevention on campus, as it will send aggregate data to Pomona about when and where assaults are occurring. The data will not identify individual students.
“Some of the things I’m most interested in are: are there trends around time, around location, around year of student. So if we’re seeing [certain trends], then it doesn’t get much clearer than that, what the college should be prioritizing,” Mooko said.