The lack of sexual health education in the US is a big issue. This month, 99nonprofits highlights the important work of one special organization who’s using technology to combat sexual violence.
You remember taking sex ed when you were in high school, right? At the time it probably felt a little uncomfortable. But you likely recognize now the positive impact the class had on you. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of that education in the US has suffered greatly since your sophomore year: funding for abstinence-only programs increased in the previous decade, despite research finding them ineffective; the Center for Disease Control found that the US has failed to provide comprehensive sexual health education in over half of high schools; and it seems that every other day there’s another story of a college sexual assault on a US campus. Motivated by these tragedies to health and safety, Sexual Health Innovations has sought to spur sexual health education in the digital age.
Identifying the problem
Based in San Francisco, Sexual Health Innovations has been utilizing technology to serve sexual health education since 2011. Today their primary focus is on their Callisto project, a website that serves as a reporting system for college students who have experienced sexual assault.
Callisto grew out of a culture that focused on how individuals should act or dress in order to avoid sexual assault, rather than the root causes of the problem. Callisto wanted to shift the conversation to recognizing sexual assault as the violent crime that it is and to preventing it in the first place. Ashley Schwedt, Callisto’s partnership manager, explains that only 10 percent of college students who’ve experienced assault will report the attack. Reasons for not reporting assaults vary, but oftentimes it’s because students are worried about the social ramifications of reporting a crime, and the public scrutiny such an action can draw. Callisto assuages the fear of reporting an assault through anonymity and community.
Through Callisto, a student can report an attack with their school, or simply store the perpetrator’s name in a database. If, at a later date, someone else reports the same perpetrator, they can then choose to report the assailant. (According to their website, 90 percent of attacks are carried out by repeat perpetrators.) This gives students more confidence in reporting and allows schools to more diligently handle offenders.
“Nearly everyone I speak with has, or knows someone who has, been impacted by sexual assault,” says Ashley. “I am always met with the response, ‘that certainly would have helped me’ or ‘maybe then I would have reported what happened.’” It’s clear to us, too, that Sexual Health Innovations has found their calling. In 2015, Callisto was piloted at two schools. The team is working hard to expand that number in the years to come.
A site designed for efficiency
When Sexual Health Innovations reached out to 99nonprofits, they already had an existing website for Callisto but it wasn’t user-friendly. As their name became more widespread—and site traffic increased—they realized they needed to strengthen their online presence with a more polished site. So they launched a Web Page Design Contest and received ideas from over 20 designers. They selected the winner, GETCREATED, based on his talent and his excellent response to their feedback.
After the contest. they began using their design at ProjectCallisto.org right away. Having a site with a clean design and informational structure means it’s easy for users to find information on their own. And that meant two things: first, users could more easily report assaults. And second, the Callisto team could spend time on further developing the program instead of answering process questions all day.
Putting design and technology to work for the greater good
Sexual Health Innovations is a model for other organizations. They’ve succeeded not just through their precise use of technology, but also through their very clear understanding of the issue at large behind sexual assault: lack of education.
Through their website, they curated resources for information, videos, in-real-life services and even games to advance sexual health education. These tools make information easily accessible to young people. Meanwhile, Callisto continues to tackle the abuses of a lack of education on college campuses with finesse.
This month Callisto celebrates the 1 year anniversary of their initial pilot launch, but the journey is far from over. The hope is to expand Callisto to serve every school in the US, so that students no longer have to live through the trauma of an unreported attack, or feel alone in their experience. Sexual Health Innovations goal is to educate, empower and to ultimately put a stop to sexual assault. They’re well on their way through donor support, user implementation and community appreciation, and 99designs is happy to have been a small part of their grand mission. Onward and upward and everywhere-ward!