After one of their classmates was reportedly raped in public at Ohio University last weekend, a group of students posted supportive sticky notes at the site of the incident. “You are not alone,” one read. “I’m sorry we weren’t there for you,” said another.
But soon the notes addressing the rape disappeared.
The students assumed the notes were removed by people who didn’t think any crime had occurred. Because the assault happened in a crowd of bystanders who thought it was consensual, because both the alleged victim and the attacker were drunk, and because the incident involved the victim receiving oral sex, it has caused doubt and controversy on campus.
When the students returned to re-post the notes, they were stopped by a local police officer, Ohio University’s independent student paper, The Post, reports. He accused the students of vandalism.
“He proceeded to tell us that what we were doing was tearing the town apart,” student Emily Harper recounted to The Post. “He told us that he knew the facts of the case because he was the person who filed the initial report.”
Harper filed a verbal complaint with the police station after they spoke with the officer, and the police chief there told The Post, “I’m comfortable in saying that we’re going to address her concerns.”
The accusation that supporting a rape victim can “tear the town apart,” as described by the police officer who took down the sticky notes, evokes other rape cases that have cropped up in recent months. When a young girl was raped in Steubenville, Ohio, earlier this year, headlines proclaimed that the rape accusations “split” the town in two. Such descriptions can be problematic since they often place blame on a victim for coming forward with an accusation, instead of with the perpetrators.
Such has been the case in Athens, where most reactions to the alleged rape have been much more negative than the sticky notes. Students angry with the accusation originally targeted the wrong person with messages saying she “changed her story” to avoid getting expelled, and that video of the incident shows she “looks like she is fully enjoying this VOLUNTARY oral sex she is receiving.”
No matter, though, the case has legs: The alleged victim in the attack was said to be very drunk, and Ohio University’s policy on sexual assault dictates that a person is unable to consent if he or she is “asleep or otherwise mentally or physically incapacitated, whether due to alcohol, drugs or some other condition.” Some bystanders took videos and photos of the alleged assault, which are now being used as evidence in the case, Gawker reports.