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CONNOLLY: Don’t accuse anonymously

Publicly listing alleged sexual assaulters is unfair to the accused

The issue of sexual assault on college campuses is in the midst of a “public moment,” so to speak. In late April, the White House released a task force report issuing recommendations for reforming how colleges handle sexual assault, the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s campaign to bring attention to the issue. The White House has also created a website, www.NotAlone.gov, replete with resources for students and schools on how to best combat sexual assault.

The White House should be lauded for these actions. Although data do not indicate that sexual assaults have increased on college campuses in recent years, it is still crucial to bring attention to an issue that affects an appalling one in five college women.

The White House is tackling the issue the right way, in a manner that raises awareness of the issue and challenges colleges and students alike to accept responsibility in the struggle to combat sexual assaults. Unfortunately, not all who fight to prevent sexual assault have gone about their crusades in as prudent a manner as the White House.

Columbia University has recently made headlines after the names of alleged sexual assailants and rapists were anonymously posted on campus bathroom walls, likely by students. Following this graffiti, flyers with similar lists have been disseminated around Columbia’s campus.

This reprehensible action is unfair to the accused — the students and staff listed on the vigilante lists that have appeared seemingly spontaneously around Columbia’s campus. Inclusion on this ignominious list inevitably affects the reputations and lives of these men. But if just one of the alleged assailants on the list is innocent, if just one name is not guilty of the crime of which he has been publicly and anonymously accused, then Columbia University students will have unalterably and unjustly affected the life of an innocent man. Is this a moral hazard which these students are prepared to bear?

Moreover, by drawing attention to the names of specific men, these Columbia students have distracted the nation’s attention from the methods of sexual assault prevention and victim support that should matter. For instance, the White House recently released a chill-inducing video on the importance of bystander intervention in preventing sexual assault. Notable University groups such as One in Four also bring awareness to sexual assault prevention, and give valuable presentations on the issue to students. Columbia’s sexual assault education efforts have been called “woefully inadequate” in the wake of the firestorm of recent news; students have complained that the university’s entire sexual assault prevention program was packed into a single 50 minute presentation at pre-freshman orientation.

Rather than lose credibility by wild and potentially destructive anonymous accusations, Columbia students might channel their frustration by pushing for increased educational programs on sexual assault prevention. This, I think, would go much further in protecting future victims than names scribbled callously on bathroom walls.

Motivated students across the country should seize the moment as an opportunity to address our inadequate methods of handling sexual assault cases. Though there is no evidence sexual assaults have increased on college campuses in recent years, there is also no evidence they have decreased, and even one sexual assault is too many. Preventing future sexual assaults is crucial. But it is vital that students and activists go about their efforts in a just and meaningful manner.

John Connolly is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at j.connolly@cavalierdaily.com.


Published May 23, 2014 in Opinion







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