Towards Understanding Privacy andTrust in Online Reporting of Sexual AssaultBorke Obada-Obieh, University of British Columbia; Lucrezia Spagnolo,Vesta Social Innovation Technologies; Konstantin Beznosov,University of British 0/presentation/obada-obiehThis paper is included in the Proceedings of theSixteenth Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security.August 10–11, 2020978-1-939133-16-8Open access to the Proceedings of theSixteenth Symposium on Usable Privacyand Security is sponsored by USENIX.
Towards Understanding Privacy and Trust in Online Reporting of Sexual AssaultBorke Obada-ObiehUniversity of British [email protected] SpagnoloVesta Social Innovation [email protected] BeznosovUniversity of British [email protected] to the United States Department of Justice, every73 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. However, sexual assault is under-reported. Globally, 95% of sexual assaultcases are unreported, and at most, 5 out of every 1,000 perpetrators end up in prison. Online anonymous third-party reporting systems (O-TPRSs) are being developed to encouragereporting of sexual assaults and to apprehend serial offenders.This paper reports survivors’ concerns with trusting and using an O-TPRS. We conducted focus groups and interviewswith 35 participants who are sexual assault survivors, supportworkers, or both. We asked questions related to participants’concerns with trusting an O-TPRS. Our results suggest thatparticipants had technological and emotional concerns thatare related to survivors’ security and privacy. We provideinsights into the challenges of designing O-TPRSs to increasethe reporting of sexual assault.1IntroductionThe goal of our research is that interdisciplinary innovationsin human-computer interaction, privacy, and security can beused to empower survivors of sexual assault to encounterhealing and justice. Our investigation into designing safespaces online for anonymous third-party reporting (TPR) isa response to the clear need for a confidential and accessibleplatform that survivors of sexual assault can use to communicate their experiences in the hope of holding perpetratorsaccountable.Copyright is held by the author/owner. Permission to make digital or hardcopies of all or part of this work for personal or classroom use is grantedwithout fee.USENIX Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security (SOUPS) 2020.August 9–11, 2020, Virtual Conference.USENIX AssociationThe stark reality is that 1 in 3 Canadian women will experience sexual assault in their adult life . Further, 1 in14 American men and 1 in 5 American women have beenvictims of completed or attempted sexual assault during theirlifetime . Sexual assault has no single impact but affectsmultiple areas of the survivor’s life, including but not limitedto the survivor’s somatic and psychological health [14, 19].One in four survivors reported that they had difficulty carrying out everyday activities because of the incident . Further, one in six survivors reported experiencing three or morelonger-term emotional consequences, such as post-traumaticstress disorder, substance abuse, depression, and suicidalthoughts [20, 42, 43].However, statistics alone fail to capture the significantrepercussions of sexual assault on survivors, not only because the effects of such trauma are unquantifiable  butalso because sexual assault is greatly underreported [48, 55].Only 5% of cases are reported to the police , and only11% of those reported cases eventually lead to the conviction of the perpetrator . The reluctance of survivors toreport the crime to the police has mainly been attributed tothe cumbersome reporting process and to the grueling interview procedure involved in filing a formal police report,which can be adversarial and emotionally very unpleasant forsurvivors [39, 43, 44, 53, 54].To expand the reporting options for survivors, third-partyreporting centers have been put in place. Third-party reportingis when someone else reports the crime to the police on behalfof the survivor , who remains anonymous. Third-partyreporting systems (TPRSs) allow survivors to anonymouslyreport sexual assault to the police through a community-basedsupport center [11, 40]. TPRS is an option used when a survivor does not want to visit a police station to make a formalpolice report. This option is useful for two main reasons.First, it allows survivors to record details of a perpetratoranonymously . Second, when multiple survivors indicatethe same perpetrator, a serial offender is identified. In thiscase, the police contacts the community-based support centerto ask the survivor if they would consent to make a formalSixteenth Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security145
police report so that the police can begin a formal investigation . Many of the survivors who file a third-party reportand are then approached by the third party and told that thepolice are interested in investigating their report follow upand file a formal report with the police . The resultingfiling of formal police reports has led to an increase in arrestsof serial offenders .Third-party reporting is, however, very limited in scope. Itis currently administered on paper (P-TPRS), and there areno online systems to facilitate the reporting process, whichmakes the process cumbersome (for instance, survivors haveto locate and visit a third-party reporting center) [11, 40].Further, third-party reporting is also not available in all sexual assault support centers but only in a few select jurisdictions [11, 13], which defeats its purpose of increasing sexualassault reporting [40, 57]. Online third-party reporting systems (O-TPRSs) are being developed to increase the reportingchoices for survivors. With an O-TPRS, survivors can, at theirconvenience, document their experience and offender information before submitting the report to the police. An O-TPRScould decrease barriers for vulnerable populations who donot currently have access to reporting options, and whosereporting rates are even lower than the estimated averagesalready cited.Since an O-TPRS will hold sensitive information, we mustaddress the privacy and security concerns of survivors. A considerable amount of research has been conducted on sexualassault and sexual assault survivors [7, 9, 20, 42, 58]. Some research also investigates the reporting experiences of survivors, including sexual assaults within the armed forces and police-reported sexual assaults against youths and children . However, no research has focused on survivors’concerns regarding trusting O-TPRSs. To this aim, the objective of this research is to answer these research questions:cover their privacy and security concerns regarding trustingan O-TPRS. We group our findings into technological andemotional concerns, and we show how technological concerns can lead to emotional issues for survivors. For example,the technological concern about the insecurity of technologycan lead to the emotional issue of anxiety about making anonline report, the fear of perpetrators having access to thesexual assault report, and the re-victimization of survivors.Second, we discovered concerns that technologists need toconsider in developing O-TPRSs. For instance, on the onehand, survivors did not trust that an O-TPRS could protecttheir anonymity and privacy. On the other hand, the policedid not trust that the anonymous reports sent from an O-TPRSwere linked to real survivors. Technologists would, therefore,need to find a balance in how an O-TPRS can ensure bothparties can trust the system.Our contributions provide insights into concerns that survivors and support workers have about using online systems toreport sexual assault. We are optimistic that when O-TPRSsare designed with careful attention to users’ feedback andresearch, such systems could increase reporting.2Background and Related WorkIn its current format, a TPRS is a process or protocol to makean anonymous report of a sexual assault by a communitybased support center. A TPRS is not a substitute for an emergency call, nor is it a formal police report. It is not to be usedwhen the survivor or others are at risk of further violence. ATPRS is intended to be used when the survivor does not wantto make a formal police report but prefers to report anonymously. A TPRS is useful for the identification of offenders,especially repeat offenders.1. RQ1: What are survivors’ privacy and security concerns(if any) regarding trusting O-TPRSs?2.1P-TPRS2. RQ2: What could help participants trust O-TPRSs?2.1.1The P-TPR form“Trust is the degree to which people believe in the veracityor effectiveness of a tool or system to do what it was createdfor and is purported to do .” The act of measuring trustis used to predict whether survivors would make use of OTPRS technology . Answering these research questions,therefore, will lead to understanding what it would take forusers to make use of an O-TPRS. These answers could leadto an increase in the reporting of sexual assaults.We addressed our research questions by conducting sixfocus groups and eight individual semi-structured interviewswith a total of 35 participants. They were survivors, sexual assault support workers, or both. We asked questions relating toparticipants’ concerns with trusting an O-TPRS and analyzedthe results using thematic analysis.Our study has two major contributions. First, we performedthe first empirical study on sexual assault survivors to dis-146Sixteenth Symposium on Usable Privacy and SecurityThe current TPRS is in paper form. We describe a P-TPRScurrently in use in a jurisdiction in Ontario, Canada. Pageone of the P-TPRS is a cover sheet where survivors writetheir personal information. On pages two and three, survivorsdescribe the offender and the offense (see Appendix C for thequestions asked on a sample P-TPR form.)2.1.2The P-TPR processThe survivor goes to a community-based center to carry outthe P-TPRS process. The community-based center, which isusually a hospital or a sexual assault support center, is the thirdparty. The survivor meets with a representative, either a nurseor a social worker, at the third-party reporting center. If thesurvivor is not willing to make a formal police report at thistime, the representative at the center can provide the optionUSENIX Association
of filling out a third-party report form. The survivor has to fillout the form at the center and return it to the representativebefore leaving the center. If the survivor doesn’t feel capableof filling out the form by themselves, the representative canlisten to the survivor’s story and fill out the form with thesurvivor’s consent. Afterward, the representative de-identifiesthe form by removing the cover sheet. The representativesends the de-identified P-TPR form to the police. However,the hospital or the sexual assault support center, which is thethird party, maintains the identity of the survivor. The policereceive the content of the form and enter it into a database,making it easier to identify serial offenders .A serial offender is identified if at least three people accusethe same person of sexual assault. If a serial offender or atrend is identified, or if the police believe the survivor is inimminent danger, the police can contact the community-basedcenter. The center can reach out to the survivor to see if thesurvivor is willing to take further part in the investigation oreven if they might consider changing their report from ananonymous report to a formal police report . Figure 1shows the P-TPR process.survivor can download the O-TPRS app from the app storeor can use the website version. Unlike the P-TPR form, theO-TPR provides unlimited space for the survivor to type outtheir experience. The survivor fills out their information, andthey can save and review the information before submitting it.Before the form gets sent to the police, the O-TPRS automatically de-identifies the form. The O-TPRS, which is the thirdparty, maintains the identity of the survivor. The police enterthe content of the de-identified form into a database, makingit easier to identify serial offenders. If a serial offender or atrend is identified, or if the police believe the survivor is inimminent danger, the police can contact the O-TPRS. TheO-TPRS then reaches out to the survivor to see if the survivoris willing to take further part in the investigation or even ifthey might consider changing their report from an anonymousreport to a formal police report.O-TPRSs are not widely available. However, several organizations are looking into deploying O-TPRSs. For instance,Vesta has developed an experimental version of an O-TPRS,which is being deployed to various sexual assault centers topilot the program. Figure 2 shows the O-TPRS process.Figure 1: P-TPR process2.2Figure 2: O-TPR processO-TPRSThe O-TPRS supports the goal of reducing barriers to reporting by providing survivors with a new way to report that isanonymous and does not require visiting a community-basedcenter. It also streamlines the third-party reporting process byremoving the human involved in the P-TPRS.2.3Trust and technologyThe survivor fills out the TPR form online. The O-TPRS,which could be an app or a website, is the third party. TheResearch has been done on the concept of trust and technology usage. McKnight et al. define trust in technologyas “belief that a specific technology has the attributes necessary to perform as expected in a given situation in whichnegative consequences are possible .” Prior work showsthat heightened levels of trust are associated with heightenedlevels of intended use . Trust in technology is used topredict the intended or actual adoption of technology .It is also connected to appropriate and inappropriate use oftechnology  and technology over- and under-reliance .Many works on technology and trust exist. Hardre, forinstance, studied when, how, and why people trust technologytoo much . Hardre analyzed various scenarios of everydaytechnology use where users tend to trust technology. Some ofthese scenarios include massive breaches of banking systems,USENIX AssociationSixteenth Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security2.2.1The O-TPR formThe O-TPR form works similarly to the P-TPR form. Weprovide the description of an O-TPRS being developed byVESTA Social Innovation Technologies (Vesta) . The OTPRS includes a cover page and pages to type out informationabout the survivor, offender, and the offense (see Appendix Dfor a sample of an O-TPRS prototype).2.2.2The O-TPRS process147
even though people believed that these systems would keeptheir financial information safe .Minimal research has been done on how survivors buildtrust in sexual assault technology. Work by Liu is closest toours . Liu discussed issues that sexual assault prevention(such as the Circle of 6 app) and reporting technologies (suchas the I’ve-Been-Violated app) may have in the future. Theauthor evaluated these apps using the US Federal Trade Commission’s fair information practice principles (FIPPs). Basedon these principles, the author predicted that the followingconcerns could arise with using the apps: false allegations,security issues with the internet, fears of lack of anonymity,insensitivity to survivors’ experience, lack of clarity on collected information, and lack of user-friendliness.Our contributions are as follows: 1. We performed thefirst empirical study with survivors and sexual assault supportworkers to identify issues related to trusting O-TPRSs. 2. Inaddition to corroborating concerns of Liu  that technologycould be used to make false allegations, we identify additionalconcerns with trusting O-TPRSs, such as the dual use of technology in not only reporting but also aiding sexual assault. 3.Further, we uncover the relationships between these concernsand discuss the issues related with designing an O-TPRS.33.1MethodologyData CollectionWe recruited participants using three methods and specificeligibility criteria. First, we used word of mouth in the professional network of one of the authors, who had extensivecontacts with the workers and administration of sexual assaultcenters. Second, after we presented our study to an association of sexual assault centers in the Province of Ontario, itsmembers distributed our recruitment notice to their clients,some of whom were in support groups. Third, we used snowballing with the help of already recruited participants. To beeligible to take part in the study, participants had to be 19years old or above. Further, participants had to be survivorsof sexual assault, support workers, or both. We defined support workers as those who supported survivors throughout theprocess of reporting sexual assault. Support workers includedvolunteers and staff of sexual assault report centers and thepolice. We recruited both survivors and support workers because both parties are involved in the TPRS process. None ofthe recruited participants had prior knowledge of TPRS. Werecruited participants who had no prior knowledge of TPRS toget an unbiased view of both the paper and the online versionof TPRS.We piloted our study procedure with three participants—one participant for an interview session and two participants for a focus group session. In the interview pilotstudy, we asked the participant about her thoughts regardingO-TPRS. We realized that it was difficult for the participant to148Sixteenth Symposium on Usable Privacy and Securityimagine how an O-TPRS would look and function. Based onthis result, we made a video showing an O-TPRS prototype(see Appendix D for pictures of the prototype). We showedparticipants this video to illustrate an O-TPRS and to helpparticipants understand how an O-TPRS would function. Wechose to use a video for three reasons. First, for interview andfocus group sessions facilitated through online video calls,we found a video more effective than a verbal explanation.Second, using a video provided a consistent explanation ofthe user interface across all sessions. Finally, the use of avideo helped to fit each session into one hour. We pilotedthis approach in the pilot focus group, and we discoveredthat the participants could understand the O-TPRS better. Wetherefore used this approach for the main study. Apart fromthis change, all other procedures in the pilot interview andfocus group were the same as those used in the main study.After adjusting the study design based on the outcomes of thepilots, we recruited participants for the main study.We used multiple qualitative research methods [47, 65].As suggested by Hammarberg et al.  and illustrated byWillis , using various data collection methods helps toprovide better insights for sensitive research topics. We conducted semi-structured individual interviews and focus groupswith participants . Because of the sensitivity of the research, we gave participants the option to decide whetherthey were more comfortable having a semi-structured interview or participating in a focus group. For our interviews, wechose a semi-structured style to allow participants to expresstheir thoughts in their own way and add information as theysaw fit, without the restriction of a structured interview .We also offered focus groups because focus groups allowparticipants to discuss sensitive or controversial topics in agroup setting . Due to participants’ shared experience,sometimes focus groups “reveal aspects of experiences andperspectives that would not be as accessible without groupinteraction ,” which leads to a better quality of data onsensitive topics .We conducted in-person or video interviews and focusgroups, based on the participants’ preference, at the participants’ preferred location. Some of these locations includedthe participants’ home or a sexual
therefore, will lead to understanding what it would take for users to make use of an O-TPRS. These answers could lead to an increase in the reporting of sexual assaults. We addressed our research questions by conducting six focus groups and eight individual semi-structured interviews with a total of 35 participants. They were survivors, sexual as-