'Lighthouse' Independent Sexual Assault Reporting Website Might Change Everything, Although It Remains Controversial

Traditionally, students have two options when it comes to reporting sexual assault — turning to campus officials, or making a report to local law enforcement. Recently, however, a third option has arrived: Lighthouse, an independent sexual assault reporting web portal. Much like the similar third-party reporting app Callisto, Lighthouse aims to help students understand their options after experiencing sexual assault, but it doesn't stop there. According to founder Luke Roopra, the portal isn't just for survivors; it can be used to report a witnessed event as well. However, the portal hasn't been without controversy.

First things first: How does the reporting process work on Lighthouse? Students create an account that requires no personal information — just a username, password, and a series of security questions. According to Roopra, this is intended to protect users' identities. "We didn’t want to be in the mix as far as having access to any student information. We wanted to be the vehicle – that’s it," he tells Bustle over email. To that end, all information is encrypted and separate, so the company "couldn’t pull [a] report together if [it] wanted to."

Once they have an account, users can create a report, which allows students to be fully anonymous if they wish. The report asks a series of questions about the event, including demographic information, details about the offender, and the type of assault. "Not all reports are rapes," Roopra notes. Accordingly, there are options for attempted assault, threats of sexual contact, and other such forms of harassment.

Each report is automatically sent to the Title IX coordinator for the student's campus, but they can also choose to send it to campus security, the local police department, and/or the regional Office for Civil Rights. According to Roopra, Lighthouse is also piloting an option allowing users to choose to be contacted by off-campus, independent advocacy organizations.

Once the report is submitted, a Facebook-style timeline is created in which users and officials can see who has logged in, viewed the report, and so on. "All parties in the circle of the report can view the updates and actions," Roopra explains, adding that students can also add new information, including changing their anonymous status.

Unlike Callisto, Lighthouse doesn't allow users to save the report to submit later. According to Roopra, waiting to submit a report can create "huge issue[s]" with local law enforcement, which often has different policies depending on the location.

But Lighthouse has also been somewhat controversial. For one thing, it's a for-profit corporation developed by software company Vertiglo, and some have criticized the "anti-rape industry" for making money off of preventing and reporting sexual assault. Lighthouse doesn't charge its users, at least; rather, it aggregates (anonymous) data to predict where assaults are more likely to occur. Originally, Roopra planned on having universities pay to access this data, but he told the Huffington Post that he's considering applying for research grants.

The majority of criticism focuses on its lack of affiliation with college campuses. Many universities have been wary of the portal's independence, and many have asked Lighthouse to cease and desist. Worth noting is that on Lighthouse's list of pre-selected campuses, which number 34 at the time of this writing, highlighted is the fact that "Lighthouse is independent, not affiliated, not associated or working in any way with the campus." This is "by design," according to the website, although as the Huffington Post's report on Lighthouse underlines, it is this aspect that many schools find the most troubling.

Although Lighthouse is currently available only as a portal, Roopra says he plans on having four different apps launched in time for the Fall 2016 semester. Even if Lighthouse never makes a cent, though, Roopra says he is accomplishing what he set out to do in the first place.

"What I want is to solve problems without the politics of it," he writes. "That’s what I’m doing."

Images: Stokpic.com/Pexels; Lighthouse