Former Stonington resident develops app to help sexual assault victims
For Ryan Soscia, college could wait.
But sexual assault victims who wanted a way to report their abuse anonymously could not.
The 25-year-old former Stonington resident has created an Internet application called JDOE, which enables victims of sexual assault to report their abuser anonymously and be connected with a law firm that could potentially represent them in a lawsuit. The application also enables the identification of repeat sexual offenders.
"We're currently working with over 30 law firms to date in various states around the country," Soscia said by phone from Washington, D.C., last week. "I think we've helped to identify 65 repeat offenders to date."
JDOE is a reference to Jane or John Doe, the pseudonyms often used in legal proceedings to protect the anonymity of sexual assault victims.
Soscia attended the Sidwell Friends school in Washington for his last two years of high school. He returned to the area to intern at a family's law firm, Hall Law & Associates of Westerly, and helped settle a case for a woman in her 40s who was suing her parents for childhood abuse.
The summer after the internship, he said, a close friend broke down and told him he had been molested by a trainer at his gym. Soscia said he supported his friend and encouraged him to do something about it.
"I felt confident that if nothing was done, he would do it to others," Soscia said.
Then, he said, his friend spoke up about the experience at a graduation party, and 10 others said it had happened to them, too. They decided to act, but the man accused of molesting them killed himself before the police had completed their investigation.
Soscia went off to the University of California, San Diego, and at age 20, interviewed with Clifford Boro, a venture capitalist in the San Diego area. He said he pitched his idea for JDOE, explaining how he had come up with it and why it would benefit the world.
"He said, 'I believe in you. I believe in this app. When can you start?' '' Soscia said.
At age 20, Soscia took a leave of absence from college. He took the job with The Team Group, now known as Simplicity Ventures, and worked with a handful of their portfolio companies. He said he got the JDOE app off the ground, working with six different startup CEOs.
Soscia formed his own company, which employs 15 people, though not all of them are full time.
The company was one of nine startups accepted last month into the LexisNexis Legal Tech Accelerator Program, which helps startups break into the rapidly expanding legal tech industry.
Of course his mother, Alice Soscia of Stonington, wanted to herald her son's success on Facebook.
"So proud of my son Ryan Soscia on his recent acceptance into the LexisNexis Legal Tech Accelerator program in San Francisco," she wrote. "His app, JDOE, is an anonymous, end to end encrypted reporting platform that connects survivors of sexual misconduct with civil litigators to pursue justice together against repeat offenders."
Ryan Soscia explained that users are in control of their information at all times and that JDOE does not have the ability to access it.
"You basically go to JDOE.IO to get our app. You create an account. You click the plus icon in the top right corner and file a report. You'll tell us when it happened, where it happened and what you experienced. We'll ask for the perpetrator's personal information and social media data," he said.
JDOE uses 'homomorphic encryptment,' which allows the company to use identifying information without knowing what the information is itself.
"We talked to folks who were dubbed 'cybersecurity czars' for Apple," Soscia said. "We hired some brilliant folks and from a technical perspective it was cutting edge. It's been a long time developing this technology, and frankly it's been working exactly as anticipated."
The development of the app was also happening as the #metoo movement took shape, which has empowered more people to report they'd been abused.
"The idea is that you can file a report whether it happened yesterday or 70 years in the past," said Soscia. "We'll have data points that indicate whether the offender is a repeat offender. It will allow you and other parties to know and be aware of this information and take a collective action."
States have recently passed laws to extend statutes of limitations for victims of sexual assault, and Soscia said the company wants to evolve so that it can work with corporate human resource offices, law enforcement and schools in addition to law firms.
But wait, there's more.
Soscia said that from an early age he understood the value of people knowing they are not alone and saw the value of a law firm that might take on such cases. It wasn't until he went away to college that he realized he wasn't taking his own advice about going forward.
"Growing up, I was sexually abused by my friend's older brother," he said. "I said something, and the response I got was, 'My brother would never do something like that. I felt like, if it was that difficult for me, what about everyone else? What about everyone who experienced worse?"
Soscia said the technology could help survivors have access to the same quality law firms as billionaires. The ultimate mission of JDOE, which he says is a public benefit corporation, is to eradicate sexual assault and provide a safe haven to victims.
"If your work could be bringing something good to society, there's nothing better you could do with your time," he said.