Sexual assault prevention app means well, needs adjustments

This past weekend, a new program, xSoteria, aimed at increasing safety at parties, debuted on campus. However, certain issues exist within the app and with how the app interacts with Greek life—and if these aren’t addressed, the app will not achieve nearly as much success as it otherwise can.

xSoteria is an app operated through Facebook Messenger that anonymously connects bystanders at parties to sober contacts, dubbed “risk managers,” who can then intervene in encounters that seem dangerous if needed. With a similar philosophy to other Washington University programs like It’s On Us and Green Dot, the app tries to prevent instances of sexual violence, rather than react to them once they have happened.

It will be first instituted at Greek life parties in a trial period—and with sexual assault rates 3.5 percent and 9.4 percent higher among men and women in Greek life, respectively, than for non-Greeks, the app’s first use comes within organizations that need reform.

But before the app’s success can be assessed, it must be widely instituted.

At the time of publication, only six fraternities are fully on board with using xSoteria at their on-campus events, which primarily take place in individual fraternity houses. For fraternities still deciding whether to use xSoteria, complaints are the same as the reasons which kept the University from endorsing the app: concerns over liability—despite the fact that the app adds no legal liability for those who use it.

The problem is that without broad adoption, xSoteria will not catch on—and will, therefore, be unable to do what it was designed to: help people.

Additionally, xSoteria’s success depends on the designated sober contacts being responsible, and reliably so. Should they impair their judgment by drinking, leave the party early or feel uncomfortable confronting a fellow Greek life member or party attendee, the app will essentially become useless.

Although the app can’t do anything on its own to prevent these scenarios, adding sober contacts from sororities who attend any given event could be useful (currently, only specific fraternity members can be recognized as sober contacts within the app). By allowing representatives from both organizations to report, xSoteria would increase the chance that those who encounter a problematic situation feel comfortable sending requests for help. Not only could this be beneficial—as it could increase users’ confidence in using the app to report—but since not every fraternity seems to use sober contacts at parties, it also seems pretty necessary.

The current launch period is being used to assess the app’s efficacy, another reason that the app was first tested via Greek life (an easily accessible, established structure that the app can work within). This past weekend, information about the app was disseminated through specific Facebook event pages and, verbally, when guests first entered a party. Going forward, however, Wash. U.’s non-Greek population should have exposure to the app, whether this be through public Facebook posts, class-wide emails, Office of Residential Life policies or an incorporation into LIVE training. Furthermore, if xSoteria receives positive feedback after its initial rollout it should be able to be used at off-campus events and expand to non-Greek parties in future versions so that the rest of the Wash. U. community can share in the app’s benefits.

Although the app isn’t perfect, any measures to reduce the proportion of Wash. U. students who report witnessing a drunk person heading for a sexual encounter and doing nothing—77 percent—is desperately needed and seen as a step toward creating a more reliably safe environment in the eyes of the Student Life editorial board.

The app’s creators, three Wash. U. graduates, certainly have good intentions, as do the sober contacts at parties. However, these good intentions must be translated into tangible changes, if they wish to see them come to fruition. Diligent use of the app’s features, adherence to party policies and an eventual wider audience will hopefully help reduce Wash. U.’s sexual assault rates—but change must first begin with students themselves.

  • Rob Steirn

    Hi my name is Robbie Steirn, one of the founders of xSoteria. I speak on behalf of the initiative when I say thank you for spreading awareness to the bystander intervention initiative. There are institutional issues which you did a great job outlining. Those statistics were a driving force behind the inception of the xSoteria initiative. To learn more about the initiative you can visit xsoteria.com. Also, many of your concerns are addressed in our interview with Studlife at http://www.studlife.com/news/2017/09/28/app-designed-to-increase-bystander-intervention-debuts-at-fraternity-party/.

    Your feedback means a lot to us. We’d love to address some of your concerns which many others also have. If you or any other student would like to take this offline, feel free to send me a Facebook message – happy to talk further. We are also happy to talk on this forum as well. Whatever you all are most comfortable with. To provide some clarity, I numbered some responses to make any future discussions more organized:

    1) Your headline is absolutely true. We are currently working on a version 2 update and will continue to work on updates to adjust the platform to the need of the students. We are always receptive to feedback. Please understand that the platform was only piloted less than a week ago at one party. There are many other features to come that will address your concerns.

    2) To respond to your concern about liability: In today’s current college partying environment, students don’t know who to talk to when a potentially harmful situation could arise. There are currently Risk Managers at venues, but partygoers don’t know who these Risk Managers are or how to contact them. We hope that xSoteria can lower the amount of risk incurred by students in all organization, especially in times when high amounts of alcohol are consumed.

    3) Your concern about sober contacts being responsible is understandable, and xSoteria has established two features to reduce this risk. First, partygoers can report Risk Managers for misconduct. We will permanently remove Risk Managers who misuse the platform and our goal is to work with WashU to create a misconduct policy for those who don’t responsibly use the platform. Second, xSoteria trains Risk Managers who are on duty. This is an area in need of improvement, and we plan on working with the school to provide an even more comprehensive training.

    4) The option is available for sorority members to be added as sober contacts at venues, especially at mixers. To be added to a venue, please reach out to your Sorority President for more detail.

    5) There are other non-Greek student organizations who are on the platform. We even envision Residential Advisors becoming Risk Manager’s for dorm room events.

    6) My favorite quote is the last phrase in the article: “change must first begin with students themselves.” The xSoteria initiative is reliant on the WashU community – students, faculty, and administration – in order for the initiative to reach its full potential.

    Thank you for your time and look forward to further discussion.

  • Rob Steirn

    Hi my name is Robbie Steirn, one of the founders of xSoteria. I speak on behalf of the initiative when I say thank you for spreading awareness to the bystander intervention initiative. There are institutional issues which you did a great job outlining. Those statistics were a driving force behind the inception of the xSoteria initiative. To learn more about the initiative you can visit xsoteria.com. Also, many of your concerns are addressed in our interview with Stud Life at http://www.studlife.com/news/2017/09/28/app-designed-to-increase-bystander-intervention-debuts-at-fraternity-party/.

    Your feedback means a lot to us. We’d love to address some of your concerns which many others also have. If you or any other student would like to take this offline, feel free to send me a Facebook message – happy to talk further. We are also happy to talk on this forum as well. Whatever you all are most comfortable with. To provide some clarity, I numbered some responses to make any future discussions more organized:

    1) Your headline is absolutely true. We are currently working on a version 2 update and will continue to work on updates to adjust the platform to the need of the students. We are always receptive to feedback. Please understand that the platform was only piloted less than a week ago at one party. There are many other features to come that will address your concerns.

    2) To respond to your concern about liability: In today’s current college partying environment, students don’t know who to talk to when a potentially harmful situation could arise. There are currently Risk Managers at venues, but partygoers don’t know who these Risk Managers are or how to contact them. We hope that xSoteria can lower the amount of risk incurred by students in all organization, especially in times when high amounts of alcohol are consumed.

    3) Your concern about sober contacts being responsible is understandable, and xSoteria has established two features to reduce this risk. First, partygoers can report Risk Managers for misconduct. We will permanently remove Risk Managers who misuse the platform and our goal is to work with WashU to create a misconduct policy for those who don’t responsibly use the platform. Second, xSoteria trains Risk Managers who are on duty. This is an area in need of improvement, and we plan on working with the school to provide an even more comprehensive training.

    4) The option is available for sorority members to be added as sober contacts at venues, especially at mixers. To be added to a venue, please reach out to your Sorority President for more detail.

    5) There are other non-Greek student organizations who are on the platform. We even envision Residential Advisors becoming Risk Manager’s for dorm room events.

    6) My favorite quote is the last phrase in the article: “change must first begin with students themselves.” The xSoteria initiative is reliant on the WashU community – students, faculty, and administration – in order for the initiative to reach its full potential.

    Thank you for your time and look forward to further discussion.

  • Rob Steirn

    Hi my name is Robbie Steirn, one of the founders of xSoteria. I speak on behalf of the initiative when I say thank you for spreading awareness to the bystander intervention initiative. There are institutional issues which you did a great job outlining. Those statistics were a driving force behind the inception of the xSoteria initiative. To learn more about the initiative you can visit xsoteria.com. Also, many of your concerns are addressed in our interview with Stud Life at http://www.studlife.com/news/2017/09/28/app-designed-to-increase-bystander-intervention-debuts-at-fraternity-party/.

    Your feedback means a lot to us. We’d love to address some of your concerns which many others also have. If you or any other student would like to take this offline, feel free to send me a Facebook message – happy to talk further. We are also happy to talk on this forum as well. Whatever you all are most comfortable with. To provide some clarity, I numbered some responses to make any future discussion more organized:

    1) Your headline is absolutely true. We are currently working on a version 2 update and will continue to work on updates to adjust the platform to the need of the students. We are always receptive to feedback. Please understand that the platform was only piloted less than a week ago at one party. There are many other features to come that will address your concerns.

    2) To respond to your concern about liability: In today’s current college partying environment, students don’t know who to talk to when a potentially harmful situation could arise. There are currently Risk Managers at venues, but partygoers don’t know who these Risk Managers are or how to contact them. We hope that xSoteria can lower the amount of risk incurred by students in all organization, especially in times when high amounts of alcohol are consumed.

    3) Your concern about sober contacts being responsible is understandable, and xSoteria has established two features to reduce this risk. First, partygoers can report Risk Managers for misconduct. We will permanently remove Risk Managers who misuse the platform and our goal is to work with WashU to create a misconduct policy for those who don’t responsibly use the platform. Second, xSoteria trains Risk Managers who are on duty. This is an area in need of improvement, and we plan on working with the school to provide an even more comprehensive training.

    4) The option is available for sorority members to be added as sober contacts at venues, especially at mixers. To be added to a venue, please reach out to your Sorority President for more detail.

    5) There are other non-Greek student organizations who are on the platform. We even envision Residential Advisors becoming Risk Manager’s for dorm room events.

    6) My favorite quote is the last phrase in the article: “change must first begin with students themselves.” The xSoteria initiative is reliant on the WashU community – students, faculty, and administration – in order for the initiative to reach its full potential.

    Thank you for your time and look forward to further discussion.