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Protecting Students from Sexual Assault: Building Tools to Keep Students Safe and Informed

The prevalence of rape and sexual assault at our Nation's institutions of higher education is deeply troubling. Studies show that students experience some of the highest rates of sexual assault—with nearly one in five women having been a victim sexual violence while in college and a substantial amount of men experience sexual violence during college. The need for action could not be more urgent. 

That is why in January, President Obama established a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.  The Taskforce is charged with sharing best practices, and increasing transparency, enforcement, public awareness, and interagency coordination to prevent violence and support survivors.

As part of this effort, more than 60 innovators, technologists, students, policy experts, and survivors of sexual assault gathered last week at the White House for a “Data Jam” to brainstorm new ways to address the alarming rates of sexual assault on college campuses, including through prevention, more effective and transparent responses to incidents, and opportunities to better support survivors on their journey to recovery.

The event was co-hosted with the Joyful Heart Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a future free of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse and whose mission is to heal, educate, and empower survivors of sexual violence. Presenters, including Nancy Schwartzman, creator of the Circle of 6 anti-violence application and the winner of the White House Apps Against Abuse Challenge, and Henry Lieberman and Karthik Dinakar of the website A Thin Line, kicked off the day by demonstrating ways that technology and data could be applied to educating and protecting students from sexual assault.

Included among the responsibilities of the President’s Task Force a charge to increase transparency around sexual assault reporting, school response to claimants’ reports, and their compliance with Title IX obligations. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of the Vice President both recognize that improving access to relevant data is critical to fulfilling this goal, helping students and their families access this key information, and allowing innovators to leverage this data to support these efforts.

As a key step, last week Federal agencies, including the Departments of Education, Justice, Interior, and Health & Human Services, made publicly available 103 datasets that included non-sensitive information related to higher education and sexual assault reporting. These data were posted on and used by participants during last week’s Data Jam to inform their work to combat sexual assault.

Later, participants broke out into groups and developed a number of interesting ideas about how open data can be used effectively to combat sexual assault, including:

PocketAdvocate-  a mobile app that would provide information about local resources for survivors of sexual assault, such as geo-tagged information on location and hours of crisis centers, health resources,  advocacy organizations, and more;

Stories Like Mine- a site where survivors of sexual assault can anonymously share their stories and see the stories of other survivors who may have had a similar experience, helping them realize that they are not alone, offering them links to resources and support, and helping to build awareness and prevention.

Campus Count- an incidence mapping tool that identifies where sexual violence took place and where formal complaints have been filed against an institution, to help create a feedback loop where students can effectively communicate their concerns and suggestions about campus policies and response to sexual assault.

We know that the great ideas and impactful data aren’t limited to the people that joined us last week. If you are a student, an advocate, a survivor, a technologist, or just a person with a passion for using technology to solve big problems, we need your help.  If you’re interested in contributing your own ideas or suggesting valuable datasets that can be used to combat sexual assault and inform these efforts, please email:

Lynn Rosenthal is the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women

Vivian Graubard is an Advisor the United States Chief Technology Officer