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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Activist Students Accuse Campus Men of Rape Through Graffiti and Flyers

     Pursuant to a federal law called the Clery Act, the nation's colleges and universities are required, among other things, to promptly report allegations of campus rape and other sexual offenses to the appropriate law enforcement authorities. Congress passed the law amid valid complaints that colleges and universities, to avoid bad publicity, routinely discouraged campus rape victims by making it difficult to file these complaints. Moreover, college administrators were reluctant to pass on these allegations to the police. The Clery Act was passed to solve this problem. Results have been mixed.

     It hasn't been a secret that on the campus of Columbia University in New York City, rape has been a campus problem for years. On April 25, 2014, twenty-three Columbia students filed a Clery Act complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. Through this document, the university stood accused of discouraging campus rape allegations to the authorities. These complainants also accuse university administrators of protecting students suspected of rape by refusing to kick them out of school.

     On May 7, 2014, a group of activists wrote the names of four accused rapists on the stalls in a Hamilton Hall women's restroom. Under the headings "Sexual Assault Violators" and "Rapists on Campus," the published names had been written in four different sets of handwriting with each writer using a different color marker. The last person on the lists was labeled a "serial rapist."

     The Hamilton Hall bathroom rape lists were posted less than 24 hours when university officials got wind of the "graffiti" and removed it. This not only prompted the activists to spread their message to other women's restrooms, it resulted in the publication of rape list flyers that were posted around the campus. For university administrators, the lists presented a public relations nightmare.

     On May 16, 2014, after Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz filed a rape complaint against one of the students on the rape lists with the New York City Police Department, the school paper, the Spectator, published this male undergraduate's name.

     A few days after the rapist's name appeared in the Spectator, Emma Sulkowicz, one of the Clery Act complainants, held a press conference. In describing her experience at the New York City Police Department, Sulkowicz said, "the officer basically treated me as if I was the criminal. After you've been physically violated the last thing you want is to have a policemen who is high on his own power telling you that everything you've just experienced is invalid."

     Regarding the Columbia rape lists, campus opinion seems divided between students who consider the lists the work of out-of-control vigilantes, and others who praise these students for standing up for victims' rights.

     At present, federal agents are investigating 55 colleges and universities for violations of the Clery Act. 

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