Occidental College has been flooded with over 400 false rape reports this week as internet trolls have attempted to prove a point about the school’s anonymous reporting system, according to college officials. Now, administrators are being forced to weed through the barrage of reports to determine if any real sexual assaults were reported during that time.
Members of the online communities Reddit and 4Chan, many of whom identify themselves as “men’s right activists,” started spamming Occidental after a user complained that it’s too easy to abuse the college’s anonymous reporting system. “Feminists at Occidental College created an online form to anonymously report rape/sexual assault. You just fill out a form and the person is called into the office on a rape charge. The ‘victim’ never has to prove anything or reveal their identity,” a user in the “Men’s Rights” subreddit wrote, and provided a link to the school’s form.
That spurred a flood of false reports, some of which claimed that assaults had been perpetrated by “Occidental College,” “feminists” or “Fatty McFatFat.” It was clear to administration officials that those reports “were clearly not made in good faith,” and the sheer number of reports — over 400 in just 36 hours — was also suspicious.
Occidental has recently made national headlines for its lackluster sexual assault policies. Some students say the university isn’t accurately reporting the number of rapes that occur on campus, and accuse administrators of inappropriately retaliating against the activists who have pushed for better systems. The college is currently subject to an ongoing federal investigation into the way it handles sexual assault — an increasingly prominent issue on campuses across the country.
But the Los Angeles Times reports that the anonymous reporting form in question isn’t actually a result of that recent push to hold Occidental accountable for its sexual assault policies. It was first implemented back in 2009 to encourage more victims to come forward. The allegations are reviewed by campus administrators and primarily used to track patterns, since the individuals who commit sexual assaults in college are typically serial rapists.
“The challenge for the college is not false reports,” a spokesperson for Occidental College explained. “Our experience is those are rare. The challenge for the college is getting the survivors to report, either to the college or police or both. Sexual misconduct is underreported everywhere, and we’re interested in providing as many options as possible.”
So-called “men’s rights groups” typically allege that efforts to crack down on sexual assault end up victimizing men, who they claim often become the subject of false rape reports. This isn’t the first incidence of these internet users trolling a campus. In October, after an Ohio University woman was photographed receiving oral sex in public and later filed a report saying she was assaulted, “men’s rights” supporters attempted to harass the women in question. They incorrectly identified her as a different Ohio University student, and posted that student’s contact information online. After she was flooded with messages calling her a liar, she withdrew from her classes and was afraid to leave her home.
Despite the fears fueling “men’s rights” supporters, false rape reports are very rare. Just 2 to 8 percent of reported rapes are based on false claims, and the women who file false claims often receive punishments that are far worse than the consequences for actual rapists. For instance, at Occidental College, some students who have been charged with rape have allegedly received punishments as light as being assigned a five-page book report.
Dr. Lisa Wade, an associate professor at Occidental who runs the Sociological Images blog, told Gawker that the flood of false reports is an example of a privileged class lashing out over losing some of that privilege. “The men targeting Occidental’s anonymous report form are mad that women are being listened to, that men’s voices are no longer given so much power that they can effectively drown out the voices of women,” Wade explained. “They’re mad because they’re not the only ones that matter anymore. I get it. To them, it really does feel unfair.”