Building ‘Finding Help,’ an interactive tool for sexual assault resources at OU

Today at the OU Daily, we launched an interactive tool that aims to guide students through the overwhelming number of options they have after experiencing a sexual assault.

It’s a tool I never want anyone to have to use. It starts students off with four main routes for what to do after a sexual assault: they can talk to someone, get medical help, report to OU or report to law enforcement.

A screengrab of “Finding Help,” an interactive tool I built to guide students through the process of getting help after a sexual assault.

Clicking on each of those links takes students to different interconnected pages that let them know, step by step, what would happen if they decided to go to the OU Police Department to report a sexual assault, for example. There are pages for what a student could expect if they told their counselor at the University Counseling Center or if they called the OU Advocates hotline.

The idea

I had the idea for this project after I wrote a story last October about sexual assault research that had been presented to OU’s top administrators by OU researchers and was, for one reason or another, ignored.

The researchers let me republish their report, and one page of it particularly jumped out at me during the course of that story — this one:

Screengrab from a report about sexual assault at OU.

There were so many options for getting help after a sexual assault. I remember thinking: Where in the world do you start?

How do you know which one to pick?

Where do you end up?

Those are the questions we set out to answer, but there’s no one right answer to any of them.  Instead, we were able to look in detail at a lot of different processes and starting points, and hopefully take some of the uncertainty out of an experience I can only imagine is terrifying.

Behind the scenes

Several of us at The Daily contributed to the reporting of this story — we’d done most of the reporting last semester, when we decided to embark on this project. So we ended up with a lot of information and no ideas on how to organize it.

This semester, we jumped back on it, tying up the loose ends of the information-gathering. But I was still stumped for how to make it work in an interactive way. I had the elements of a flowchart in mind, but didn’t know how to actually build one.

Then, after googling lots of variations of the words “interactive storytelling,” I found Twine — it’s a free, open source tool for making interactive, non-linear stories! Lots of people use it to make video games or Goosebumps-style “choose your own adventure” stories, so it was super cool to find a way to make it work in a journalistic, utility-driven context.

I mentioned this project has a lot of interconnected parts, right? Here’s what it looks like when you’re building the Twine.

Here’s what the Twine looks like on my end.

So, it was a lot of trial and error.

I got a lot of help from Kathy Fahl, who’s the director of the Gender + Equality Center at OU and the coordinator for OU Advocates — she provided such thoughtful advice and a lot of fact-checking assistance.

And my editor Jesse was endlessly patient with me  — he cut me a lot of slack on deadlines when I had no idea what I was doing.

Like I said, I hope no one ever has to use this tool. But I’ve seen friends go through this enough times to know that sexual assault is a problem at OU. Hopefully, this tool can make an already scary process — one no one should ever have to go through — a little less uncertain.

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