On Saturday, Oct. 29, the four WesAdmits Facebook pages lit up with warnings containing the names of alleged perpetrators of sexual assault. Zeno Scott ’18, the student who was one of the first to post on the matter, also provided a link to an anonymous survey titled “SAY THEIR NAMES,” which had the purpose of giving sexual assault survivors a place to report their perpetrators; specify actions or requests that the survivor wished to be taken; provide information about the perpetrator’s whereabouts; and explain the incident of assault. After being made aware of the posts via offices in Students Affairs and Public Safety, the administration elected to remove the content from WesAdmits, stating that they may represent breaches of Regulation 2 of the Code of Non-Academic Conduct.
In an email interview with The Argus, Vice President for Student Affairs Mike Whaley explained that the posts may also constitute a violation of the Retaliation clause of the University’s Discriminatory Harassment and Sexual Abuse Policy.
“The appropriate judicial boards will have to consider whether any charges are appropriate,” he wrote.
Scott provided a statement about the decision to name alleged perpetrators in public Facebook groups.
“Institutional and bureaucratic processes for reporting sexual assault privilege the privacy and reputation of rapists and sexual predators over that of survivors,” Scott wrote to The Argus. “I am only involved in this struggle because the Title IX office has proven obsolete in protecting survivors and creating a community that is safe from sexual misconduct. To survivors, you can come to me at any [time] if you need anything and I can do the work for you, because it should not be up to you to cope with assault and to travel through the labyrinth like channels this institution calls ‘reporting.’”
Julia DeVarti ’17, who is part of the Survivor Support Network, attributes her support of the public call-outs to a lack of trust in traditional sexual assault reporting mechanisms.
“What I hear every week at our meetings is that a lot of perpetrators of sexual assault are repeat offenders, which is pretty terrifying,” she wrote to The Argus. “And right now, there’s no trust in the school that reporting will lead to any consequences, but these perps are still out there, going to parties, and making spaces unsafe. So as survivors, we often have to take matters into our own hands, which is what happened this weekend. The intent, as I understand it, was to let people know what’s happening on our campus and to help people stay safe.”
DeVarti explained why she believes that a common criticism of the public posts, which is that they lack evidence, may be problematic.
“I’ve heard a lot of people on campus talking about how outing people on Facebook is dangerous, because it could happen to anyone,” she wrote. “And this is from the administration, too, and there’s this fear that survivors are going to report non-perps. That’s rape culture. That sort of shaming, that fear of survivors and not of perps, that’s what makes reporting sexual assault so hard.”
But an anonymous source who says they were wrongly accused of sexual assault last year was worried by the posts at a personal and systemic level.
“As somebody who was falsely accused and found innocent, it worries me that I can now be attacked or smeared by the person who accused me, despite having gone through an entire process trying to prove that I did not do what was alleged to have done,” they said.
This anonymous source invoked another potential danger of publicly naming perpetrators.
“I don’t see how this new system protects survivors in any way,” they said. “It just seems like a really dangerous tool that can not only create chaos and paranoia, but it can be used by anybody—victim or perpetrator even—can just use that system to attempt to ruin the reputation of anybody they wish.”
Aviv Rau ’19, who was not directly involved with this weekend’s postings, but has been involved in parallel organizing efforts through the Student Union and other networks, supports the public call-outs and, like DeVarti, spoke on institutional failure to address assaults reported through traditional channels.
“I’ve just felt an absolute neglect by a lot of the institutional channels here so I feel like I can’t report at this point, because of the whole history of what reporting looks like,” she said.
Gayon Yang ’19 agreed, believing the posts provided an important reminder to the community.
“I believe that they were able to tell many Wesleyan students about what Wesleyan administration is responsible for: validating survivors and preventing more cases of sexual abuse on campus,” she wrote in a message to The Argus. “The administrative negligence of this critical issue on our campus has been functioning to only certain people on campus, and the others were neglected. Those who have been neglected have started to replace the responsibility of the administration, which again shows the failure of one of the main priorities of Wesleyan administration: protecting its students. Instead, Wesleyan has been structurally protecting perpetrators.”
Rau explained the way in which public posting has facilitated bonds among survivors.
“To be able to find that solidarity, and speak to people and be like, ‘Holy shit, you’ve had this experience, too,’ is a thing that bonds you in the worst ways, but also makes for a really incredible bond and has made me feel comfortable on this campus, a lot more so then I would without that,” she said. “I think once we started kind of seeing backlash from people, and people questioning the motives, I think that it felt really necessary for me to defend why we were doing this as survivors.”
The administration’s official response to the posts consisted of a statement released on the WesAdmits pages by Assistant Dean of Admission James Huerta and emails sent by Vice President for Student Affairs Mike Whaley to students who posted publicly. Huerta’s post encouraged students who have experienced any type of sexual violence at the University to formally report and to seek support from therapist and Sexual Violence Resource Coordinator in CAPS Alysha Warren.
DeVarti was disheartened by Huerta’s post.
“It’s ironic that [Huerta] says in the same post both that the call outs were wrong (and possibly worth SJB points) and that students should report through the school and go to CAPS,” she wrote. “The call outs were because the official channels aren’t working. Alysha Warren is amazing, but she’s overburdened with all the survivors on campus. There are too many of us.”
In the aftermath of Scott Backer’s dismissal from the University, students have increasingly accused the administration of protecting perpetrators of sexual assault. Whaley responded to this accusation by mentioning the legal requirements to which the University must adhere, which may prolong the timeline of justice. He emphasized, however, the importance of formal reporting via CAPS, the Sexual Violence Resource Coordinator, the Title IX office, Public Safety, as well as external resources such as the Women and Families Center in Middletown and the Middletown Police Department.
“Our goal is to support survivors and to hold perpetrators accountable through a fair process,” Whaley wrote. “In order to do so, we need survivors to report to the University and/or to local sexual violence resources. We also believe strongly in peer education and bystander intervention as tools for preventing sexual violence and instigating culture change. We have provided bystander intervention training for hundreds of students, and we have trained nearly all faculty and the majority of staff on understanding and reporting sexual harassment, sexual assault and gender discrimination. We have also supported the WSA’s Red Zone project.”
He also refuted the notion that the University defends perpetrators.
“In cases where a student is found responsible for sexual assault, the perpetrator is usually permanently dismissed from the institution,” Whaley wrote. “We have no interest in protecting perpetrators. Indeed, we want them removed from our community.”
In addition to administrative concern, not all survivors of sexual assault found the posts comforting. One anonymous survivor of sexual assault felt uncomfortable when they saw the public naming on Facebook.
“The first thing that crossed my mind was that it was kind of terrifying to…call people out like that,” they said. “As someone who hasn’t exactly wanted to come forward with a lot of different things, a lot of survivors don’t like talking about it….A lot of people just want to put it behind them.”
Rau understands such concerns, but she pointed out that the posts are less dangerous than they may initially seem.
“From what I understand, that was never meant to be anything that like produces any harm to a person,” she said. “It was meant to be, if anything, a very harmless, sort of like a prank, I guess, or just something to draw attention to the misdeeds done by this person without drawing attention in a formal way that would interfere with job prospects or with anything in the future.”
Rau also explained that the tactics do not speak for the survivor community at large.
“They represent a fringe of people who are just so incredibly upset and feel such a disruption of their normalcy, and see their perpetrators constantly and don’t know what to do,” she said. “They have to leave spaces and actively take themselves out of spaces. Ideally this wouldn’t be the case, and I think it’s totally fair to point out that this might have long-term implications and the dangers of that. That’s…a call to action for us to try and reform the system at hand and try and make some good out of it.”