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VESTA Community pilot supports sexual assault survivors in the Kingston area

VESTA Community website. Image via Kingston Police.

VESTA Social Innovation Technologies has partnered with Kingston Police Services and with the Sexual Assault Centre Kingston to support survivors of gender-based violence.

With the launch of VESTA Community, a web and mobile-enabled anonymous information and reporting platform specifically created to support survivors of gender-based and sexualized violence, the three organizations hope to provide resources and support for survivors of sexual assault, according to a release from Kingston Police.

“I’m very excited to partner with the Kingston Police and Sexual Assault Centre Kingston to launch VESTA Community,” said Lucrezia Spagnolo, founder of VESTA Social Innovation Technologies. “VESTA Community places control in the hands of survivors. My goal with this pilot is to ensure that survivors, regardless of where they are or what time of day it is, always have access to resources and the opportunity to choose for themselves how and when to share their experience.”

Following a trauma-informed question and answer format, VESTA Community guides survivors through recording their experience by describing the incident and the offender by answering sensory-based questions. They are able to attach images, files, or recordings. Once they have recorded their experience, survivors can choose to report anonymously, or save their report with a secure password and return later. According to the release, VESTA Community uses the latest privacy, encryption, and security protocols to protect survivor information. Regardless of whether survivors choose to record or report, VESTA Community offers survivors access to support services.

“On behalf of the Kingston Police, I am happy to announce our pilot project with VESTA Community. I believe VESTA adds an innovative digital platform to our community’s toolbox for contending with sexual assault,” said Kingston Police Chief Antje McNeely. “I look forward to collaborating with VESTA and Sexual Assault Centre Kingston on this project.”

VESTA Community combines the expertise of frontline experts, survivors, and other professionals with the strength of existing technologies to create a secure, transparent, and efficient recording and reporting tool, Kingston Police said. While a digital platform will never replace human interaction, VESTA Community has the potential to bridge the gap between current service levels and a community’s needs.

VESTA Community has also partnered with the Sexual Assault Centre Kingston (SACK) to ensure survivors are supported from a trauma-informed perspective and their needs are understood. According to the release, the staff at SACK have been involved throughout the pilot project and continue to provide feedback as the project moves forward.

VESTA and Alternative Reporting

Internationally, successful alternative tools for sexual assault have been established to provide survivors with access to informal, online reporting methods often combined with support services. In Australia, Alternative Reporting Options (ARO) allows survivors to avoid formal judicial processes, while making an informal report with the option to remain anonymous. In the USA military personnel are offered a Restricted Reporting option that does not trigger an official investigation or command involvement but does provide access to support services. Third Party Reporting (TPR) has been Canada’s analog version of alternative reporting, however the tool has lacked consistent protocols and application. Combined with best practices from international examples, VESTA Community uses existing TPR processes as a starting point, modifying them to meet the evolving needs of survivors and to work with existing police processes in Ontario, according to the release.

The basic tenets of alternative reporting incorporated into the Vesta Community platform are:

  • Survivors report anonymously through a trusted third party
  • Survivors provide information for statistical and community information purposes while maintaining anonymity
  • Survivors gain access to local services
  • Survivors document their experiences in their own words
  • Survivors decide if and when to identify themselves and file a police report
  • Police agencies receive anonymous reports for community information purposes
  • Sexual Assault Centres expand the reach of their services

VESTA Community is available at https://www.sackingston.com/report-anonymously

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