A vigilante group at Columbia University, the prestigious Ivy League school in Manhattan, has taken the fight against sexual assault on campus into its own hands and has resorted to social media -- but very much the old school kind.
The unidentified group started by publishing a list of four names of men accused of being rapists on the wall of a women’s bathroom at the school. When school janitors erased that information, the group began distributing fliers with the names.
“To the Columbia Community: Stay safe, protect and support each other and always, always, make sure to have sober, enthusiastic, continuous consent,” the flier notes.
“It's not like this was a fun thing to do for whoever wrote it, I'm sure,” Columbia sophomore Cami Quarta, who said she's a sexual assault survivor, told WPIX.
It is not unheard-of for groups to take matters in their own hands and to use communication as a way of fighting a specific problem.
Rallies protesting violence against women go back to the 1970s (and probably earlier) in the United States, well before Take Back the Night became an international event run by more organized groups. On the international level, fliers have long been a way of communicating unhappiness and targeting individuals, as in the case of the Chinese Cultural Revolution beginning in 1966. Posters, screeds and pamphlets have played prominent roles in all revolutions.
But the action at Columbia is also an example of the growing awareness surrounding the issue of potential sexual assaults on campus.
The federal government, through the Education Department, earlier this month took the extraordinary step of releasing the names of 55 colleges and universities being investigated for how they handled claims of sexual abuse on campus. A White House task force also called for greater transparency in how such complaints are handled.
According to a variety of local media reports, 23 students filed a federal complaint against Columbia University, alleging the school failed to adequately respond to the complaints filed with the Department of Education.
Columbia declined to comment directly on the fliers but did issue a general statement.
"To avoid chilling complainants from coming forward and to respect all parties involved, the University does not comment on the particulars of disciplinary proceedings regarding sexual misconduct. In addition, the University is mindful of the multiple federal laws that govern these matters and provide important protections to survivors of sexual violence and to students engaged in our investigative process. These laws and our constitutional values do not permit us to silence debate on the difficult issues being discussed," it said.