50,000 Activists Demand Sexual Assault Reform At Dartmouth After Student Publishes A ‘Rape Guide’

CREDIT: Chase Carter via Flickr Creative Commons

Tens of thousands of Americans are pressuring Dartmouth College to strengthen its sexual assault policies, citing the fact that a student was sexually assaulted on campus after her name appeared in a “rape guide” published on a student-run website. Nearly 50,000 people have signed onto a petition spearheaded by the women’s advocacy group UltraViolet asking the prestigious school to “take action immediately to curb the sexual assault crisis” on campus.

“Student groups have asked the school to list expulsion as the punishment for rape in the student handbook and to block access to the ‘rape guide’ website on campus. But school authorities haven’t taken any of these recommendations seriously,” UltraViolet’s petition notes. “Usually, stories like this get little attention from the news media. But if all of us speak up, Dartmouth won’t be able to hide.”

Dartmouth is currently under federal investigation for potential violations of Title IX, the federal gender equity law that requires universities to ensure a safe learning environment for students. A group of Dartmouth students and alumni have also filed a Clery Act complaint alleging that administrators have failed to accurately report incidences of sexual violence and hazing on campus.

More recently, the college made national headlines after an anonymous individual posted a “rape guide” on the student site Bored at Baker, which is not technically affiliated with the college but which requires a Dartmouth email address to participate. The post gave explicit instructions for how to find and rape a particular female student — tips like “just casually drink with her now and then,” “prove you’re not a dangerous person,” and “she’s easily persuaded; keep on going.” The subject, who was referred to as a “whore,” was identified by name. At the end of February, just weeks after the post was first published on Bored at Baker, the female student said she was raped at a fraternity party at Dartmouth.

And this isn’t the first time that Bored at Baker has been the subject of controversy. Last spring, Dartmouth canceled classes after several students received rape and death threats on the student site. Those students were targeted on Bored at Baker because they interrupted a campus event to protest their administration’s lackluster response to incidences of rape, racism, and homophobia. Afterward, they told ThinkProgress that Dartmouth officials chose to punish them for creating a disruption rather than working to crack down on rapists.

Karin Roland, the campaign director for UltraViolet, told ThinkProgress that the situation at Dartmouth has reached a boiling point — and it’s now possible to harness that frustration to push for real policy reform.

“Dartmouth has had a problem with rape and sexual assault for decades. They have a long history with this issue, and student groups on campus are finally fed up and are leading the charge,” Roland said. “With the help of an online network of members at Ultraviolet to capture the grassroots outrage, we can really make change on this right now.”

This isn’t the first time that UltraViolet has used its online network to leverage change in this area. The group has been working with student activists to combat rape culture for the past year, supporting campus-led efforts to reform the way the U.S. Department of Education handles Title IX enforcement. When President Obama decided to convene a task force on sexual violence on college campuses, UltraViolet gathered stories and suggestions from their members, particularly sexual assault survivors, to help inform that work.

These issues certainly aren’t new, but the power to organize online is giving a louder voice to feminist activists who want to hold public officials accountable for their actions.

“Women are really fed up with rape being excused. I think that’s true on campuses, I think that’s true in our justice system, I think that’s true at the high school level, and I think that’s just becoming true across the country. The ability to connect over online networks has really empowered women to stand up and do something,” Roland pointed out. “If you look at everything from the reaction to Todd Akin’s legitimate rape comment, to Steubenville, to Dartmouth, you can see that women aren’t putting up with it anymore.”

Dartmouth has refuted UltraViolet’s allegations that the administration doesn’t take rape seriously, maintaining that the college has worked to increase the support and prevention resources for issues of sexual assault.

“It is important to note the anonymous author of the post on a privately hosted website referred to in the petition was identified and faces Dartmouth’s disciplinary process,” the school’s Assistant Vice President for Media Relations, Justin Anderson, said in a statement. “Further, we investigate every instance of sexual assault that is brought to our attention and offer multiple levels of support and resources to every survivor. Every day we work to make our community better and safer.”

That’s not good enough for the student activists on the ground who are driving UltraViolet’s activism.

“Survivors and students are speaking out on the ground, in addition to 500,000 UltraViolet members who have their backs,” Roland told ThinkProgress. “As Dartmouth has been dragging their feet to respond, more women have been assaulted. We’re still not seeing action, and we’re not going to stop speaking out until we do.”