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List alleging names of sexual assaulters appears in campus bathrooms

List alleging names of sexual assaulters appears on campus bathrooms

By
senior staff writer
Thursday, April 27, 2017

Anyone can submit a name using Brown Survivors Speak’s anonymous Google Form. But users must also add a non-Brown email now, after the name of one student was removed from the list.

The names started appearing at the end of fall semester. Some lists had three names, others as many as 15 by the time they started cropping up in the middle of spring 2017. Students found them scrawled in black permanent marker in women’s bathroom stalls around campus.

An anonymous group, Brown Survivors Speak, claim that the people on the list committed sexual assault, and the group has made posts on its anonymous Facebook profile that suggest that the University has mishandled its role in sexual assault on campus. In a March 9 Facebook post, the group explained that it aims to empower survivors and “end sexual violence on campus.”

“To the extent that students are making use of this anonymous form of protest because they don’t think the university is taking claims seriously … (that) is a concern,” said Stephen Brown, director of the Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union.

The list’s emergence follows the January departure of Title IX Program Officer Amanda Walsh and Jessica Katz, the University’s internal investigator. This has left the Title IX office headed by interim staff members from other University departments who are now charged with handling sexual misconduct cases brought to the office.

This is also not the first time a list of this kind has appeared on campus: In 1990, Brown students created a similar “Rape List.” The ensuing discussion around the list pushed University administrators to address the issue of sexual assault on campus.

Activists on other Ivy League campuses have created similar lists, such as one at Columbia that surfaced following a complaint filed by 23 students with the Department of Education about the school’s mishandling of sexual assault cases.

Brown Survivors Speak adds to its list through an anonymous Google Form, where students submit a name and, thus, “out an aggressor” who had hurt them or someone that they knew. The group functions publicly through an anonymous Facebook profile named Marie Turner, which, in March, added over 400 Brown students as friends, most of whom are women. The Turner profile also includes a link to the public Facebook page for Brown Survivors Speak, but the page was deactivated in mid-March.

Brown Survivors Speak did not respond to multiple requests for comment through both the email address provided on the Google Form, messages to the Marie Turner page and via messages to a student thought to be associated with the group.

The name Brown Survivors Speak first appeared in 2014, when a list of five names was found on campus.

The University does not know the identity of the individuals responsible for the list, wrote Russell Carey, executive vice president of the University, in an email to the Herald.

The Department of Public Safety has responded to eleven reports of names posted in restrooms on campus, according to University administrators.

While the model of Brown Survivors Speak is similar to that of the 1990 rape list, some aspects have changed. In 1990, students themselves directly added to the list by writing on bathroom walls, but the Brown Survivors Speak list is posted only by the members of the organization itself, according to the organization’s Google Form. The 1990 list also mentioned support services for survivors of sexual assault around Providence. The current list does not.

Student and outside reactions

Brown Survivors Speak has come under scrutiny by some of those named on the list for the group’s inability to verify the legitimacy of names submitted through the form.

In March, a student’s name was “falsely submitted to the sexual assault outing form,” according to the March 9 post on the group’s Facebook page before the page was de-activated. The group apologized and wrote that the student’s name had been submitted by a “rape apologist,” or someone who defends rapists, and that the group had later “been made aware that (the student) could not have committed sexual violence on this campus.”

In an effort to prevent similar situations, Brown Survivors Speak wrote in the post that it had changed its “approach to ‘outing’ aggressors” by asking survivors to provide a non-Brown email with their submissions so that members of the group could “be in contact with them.” Brown Survivors Speak wrote that they felt this would “strongly discourage rape apologists from trying to discredit or falsely accuse people through the form.”

The student whose name Brown Survivor Speaks removed from the list still supports the group despite the controversy. “Survivor support is my utmost priority,” the student said in a message to The Herald. That student, and other students on the list, requested anonymity for fear of professional and personal repercussions.

Multiple sources, both those on the list and not, expressed concern to The Herald that the Brown Survivors Speak lists target people of color and people of low-income backgrounds who may not have the means to pursue defamation suits.

Students reacting to the list felt similarly. “It seems there is a great opportunity for prejudice,” said Maggie Shea ’19.

Shea also argued that students and University community members would not feel comfortable if a list with offenders of other types of very serious crimes appeared on bathroom walls.

“There’s something casual about it,” she said, arguing that the list may trivialize sexual assault.

Lists created through anonymous submission and posted anonymously raise questions about the legitimacy of information provided, Brown said. If students are “anonymously targeted without any real chance to defend themselves,” that jeopardizes principles of due process and could be defamatory, he said.

A student on the list could potentially claim defamation, but a legal suit would be difficult given that the leaders of Brown Survivors Speak act anonymously, Brown said. That was also the case in 1990: Even when men filed complaints about being placed on the rape list with the University, the anonymous nature of the contributors to the list made it difficult for administrators to act.

Holding the University accountable

Universities have a legal obligation to offer sound Title IX protections and procedures to their students, Brown said.

The anonymous Marie Turner profile has made statuses that suggest the organizers of Brown Survivors Speak take issue with the University’s treatment of campus sexual assault. On March 6, Marie Turner posted of series of statuses. “Brown University is an institution that financially benefits from continually allowing rapists on their campus,” one status read, adding: “If an aggressor is paying $70,000 to you, what incentive do you have to cut them off?” Another status read, “Brown University fosters communal silence around the idea of rape culture.”

Carey reaffirmed the University’s continuing support for the Title IX Office. The “University’s approach to addressing issues related to sexual and gender-based harassment and violence has been a significant and ongoing priority at Brown — both from the standpoint of education and prevention and in refining procedures for filing, investigating and resolving complaints in a prompt and equitable way,” Carey wrote to The Herald. The University encourages victims of sexual assault to use the Title IX process, reach out to a Sexual Harassment & Assault Resources & Education advocate or seek support from Counseling and Psychological Services, he wrote.

As for the creators of the list, damage to University property is a violation of the student code of conduct, but “beyond policy that relates to property, speculating about violations in the absence of the specific details of a specific instance is a hypothetical,” wrote Brian Clark, director of news and editorial development,  in an email to The Herald.

Named on the list

“I was shocked when I found out my name was on it,” said a student who was named on the list. The student said they did not know why their name had been included on the list. The list places a “moral stain” upon those on the list “even if (the accusation) is unsubstantiated,” the student said. “Legally you’re innocent until proven guilty, but, morally, you’re guilty until proven innocent.”

Another student named said the list lacks accountability from the anonymous members of Brown Survivors Speak.

Still, for some of those on the list, their naming has prompted self-reflection.

“I’ve spoken to some of the men on the list … (and) the first response I’ve gotten from several is a question of how they can improve and not knowing where to go” to learn more about consent, wrote another student named on the list in an email to the Herald. But he noted that attending consent workshops may pose a problem as a student named on the list “because our presence may inherently break the comfort of a safe space.”

Several students on the list said that since they were named, they have felt acquaintances and some friends avoid or distance themselves. One student on the list fears that the list will jeopardize their job prospects.

Three of the students on the list told The Herald that they had been contacted by University deans, who told them that they were on the list. But another student on the list said no University administrators had contacted them.

While it has no “policy, per se” about how it responds to the list, the University’s “practice in general is to offer support or resources to all students, whether on this particular topic or other issues,” Clark wrote in an e-mail to the Herald.

In 1990s, the list pushes change

In 1990, former University President Sheila Blumstein, professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences, acknowledged that the University needed to make changes to its sexual misconduct policies but said the rape list that appeared that year lacked integrity.

“I do not believe in any means to an end,” she said, according to a 2004 Herald article.

“If students wanted to make accusations, they should have done so officially to the institution. We were working on a new policy and were growing more sensitive to student needs without these unfair accusations,” she said in the article.

But students then and now would not write the names of their alleged sexual assailants on bathroom walls if they felt they had a more legitimate avenue to adjudicate campus assault, said Jenn David-Lang ’91 MAT ’97, one of the students who spearheaded efforts to make changes at the University around sexual assault and misconduct. At the time, victims of sexual assault at the University felt they “were not taken seriously by the Brown disciplinary system,” she said, adding that the rape list was “a last resort effort” after several students had been let down by the Brown administration.

“It wasn’t just a list of men,” David-Lang said. “It was disseminating information. People have a strange idea that is was just a list of men, but it was a dialogue.”

Several changes were made to policy around sexual misconduct that year. After 1990, the University made sexual misconduct a punishable offense in the student conduct code for the first time and defined policies around disciplinary procedures. Additionally, administrators added a segment on sexual assault education to first-year training and appointed a point-person for women’s concerns on campus.

More recently, the University made sweeping changes to sexual assault policy following student activism in 2014 and 2015. In 2015, the University created a Title IX office and appointed Walsh as program office. Within the new office, she created a new sexual assault policy and procedure, which more clearly defined punishable offenses and moved the handling of these cases from the jurisdiction of the Office of Student Conduct to the Title IX Office.

Feminists at Brown, various members of SAPE, the Title IX Office’s main email line and Liza Cariaga-Lo, vice president for academic development, diversity and inclusion, did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

Correction: A previous version of this article said that four Brown student created the 1990 Rape List. In fact, several students added to the list. Also, a previous version of this article said that Jenn David-Lang ’91 MAT ’97 was one of the students who spearheaded the 1990 rape list and ensuing activism against the University. In fact, she was one of the students who spearheaded efforts to make changes at the University around sexual assault and misconduct. The Herald regrets the error.