In the era of #MeToo, the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University has released an updated version of its platform for the anonymous collection of data on sexual behavior that addresses the subject of sexual assault and aggression.
A smartphone app from the internationally renowned sexual research institute, the Kinsey Reporter was first launched in 2013 to help individuals across the globe provide researchers a clearer picture of sexual activities in their community without fear of negative consequences.
The data on sexual aggression will help experts construct a more comprehensive view of these incidents compared to public reports and has the potential to inform new policies or actions to confront and reduce their occurrence.
Although an important research tool, the app is not for reporting emergencies and will not inform local law enforcement or other authorities.
"As far as we're aware, our update to the Kinsey Reporter is the first effort to collect and compare data on sexual aggression on a global scale and in all contexts," said Filippo Menczer, a professor at the IU School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering, who served as a co-leader on the team who created the app. "The Me Too Movement suggests sex abuse survivors want to report their experiences, and some feel quite alone, but there are still very high risks of retaliation, shaming and other negative outcomes. A completely anonymous reporting platform may uncover massive new data to examine the problem."
To report an incident, the app's users must click on a short survey that requests details on the incident, including age and gender of the victim and aggressor, the type of aggression (verbal, physical, etc.) and location type (a church, a campus, a military location, a war zone, etc.) where the incident occurred. Additional surveys on sexual activities, public displays of affection, flirting, and the use of pornography and birth control are also available.
The app automatically logs the user's approximate location, in addition to the provided information, in order to show the total number of incidents in a specific region. This information is also visible to the app's users. Privacy is maintained in low population areas using a time-delay function that ensures incident reports to not appear on the map until a sufficient number sharing the same time and place are posted together. The app was also found to meet IU's strict privacy requirements for research since app users are not personally identifiable.
"Sexual aggression is a global problem, affecting many people, so we're especially keen to gather data worldwide," said Julia Heiman, a professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and a senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute, who also served as a team co-leader on the app. "Despite the rise in reporting in the United States and other Western nations, there are still many, many places in the world -- possibly a majority of places -- where people do not report their experiences. The Kinsey Reporter is a safe way to do that publicly and anonymously."
Heiman added that widespread adoption of the Kinsey Reporter would allow researchers to gauge the degree to which different types of sexual aggression go unreported in different contexts and locations, the factors that contribute to these events, the characteristics of victims and aggressors, and other important insights. The app's potential to anonymously collect reports on sexual aggression from aggressors and bystanders -- as well as victims -- is also unique among public data sources on the topic.
"If this data could become available on a massive scale," Menczer said, "it could generate new understanding of sexual aggression -- and, potentially, new solutions -- in unprecedented ways."
The Kinsey Institute encourages anyone who is experience sexual assault, or wants more information on the topic, to also seek help or visit itsonus.org.