OPINION | ‘Vigilante Justice’ does not solve sexual violence at Tulane

Carly Barovick, Contributing Columnist

Will Embree

In January of 2015, a 22-year-old woman, who was later identified in her memoir, “Know My Name” as Chanel Miller, went to a fraternity party on Stanford University’s campus and was found later that night unconscious, being brutally assaulted behind the fraternity’s dumpster. 

Sexual assault on college campuses occurred countless times before Miller’s attack, but the grueling circumstances of the assault, the prestige of the university, the identity of the perpetrator and the case’s verdict illuminated the unnerving frequency of sexual violence on college campuses. 

The Stanford sexual assault case was the tipping point for national recognition of the prevalence of sexual assault across American universities. In 2017, Tulane University conducted the Tulane Climate Survey which collected data on sexual violence, but the results of the survey were not released until January of 2018. 

All the while, in October 2017, countless allegations against the now disgraced Hollywood Mogul, Harvey Weinstein, catalyzed the #MeToo movement. 

These two movements, one centered around combating sexual violence on college campuses, and the other centered around encouraging women to speak up and hold their assailants accountable in a justice system that often fails victims, merged in the creation of “Vigilante Justice.” 

“Vigilante Justice” is the name of an unverified list of alleged sexual assailants that was circulated throughout Tulane on Nov. 17 but has since been removed. The list contained the names of both past and present Tulane students. 

Many of the names on the list were compiled from the now-deleted instagram account, @boysbeware.tulane. The Instagram account served as a platform for Tulane students to anonymously recount their experiences of sexual misconduct and expose their alledged assailents by name in a supposed effort to keep other members of the community safe from sexual predators. 

However, several names on the list did not originate from @boysbeware.tulane, leaving the source of said names unknown. The list itself was created anonymously as a Google document and was spread through the anonymous messaging board, Yik Yak. 

As the name “Vigilante Justice” suggests, the list was created out of collective frustration regarding the general lack of accountability that exists surrounding sexual violence at Tulane, and more particularly, Tulane’s reluctance to sincerely address the issue and hold perpetrators responsible. 

Tulane’s “Vigilante Justice” was not the first of its kind. In October 2017, Moira Donegan — an American journalist who is currently a columnist at The Guardian — anonymously published the highly controversial “Shitty Media Men” list. Donegan’s list contained the names of men in the media alleged to have engaged in a wide variety of inappropriate behaviors from “weird lunch dates” to “rape.” Donegan was sued for creating her list.  

Similarly, in December 2017, Middlebury College student Elizabeth Dunn posted a “List of Men to Avoid” on Facebook in which she accused Middlebury students of behaviors ranging from “emotional abuse” to denoting them as “serial rapist[s].” Dunn received a sanction on her permanent record as a result of disseminating her list. 

A survey assessing Tulane students’ reaction to “Vigilante Justice” found that 96% of research participants do not believe that Tulane is responding appropriately or to the best of their ability to sexual violence on campus. 

This frustration may be tied to the “Shifting the Paradigm” webinar, which occurred a few days prior to the list’s release, in which Tulane reported an increase in sexual misconduct cases from the 2019-2020 academic year to the 2020-2021 academic year. However, student dissatisfaction with sexual misconduct can also be traced to The Hullabaloo “Letter to the Editor” from the spring of 2018. In this letter, an anonymous female student detailed how, after reporting her rape to Tulane and deciding to go through the formal investigative process, she was victim-blamed.

All of this is to say, the student body is fed up and with good reason. However, “Vigilante Justice” was not the solution, and it is evident that the creator of this list put little thought into the repercussions of their actions.

The list only contained students’ names, offered zero context on the alleged acts of misconduct, made no indication of severity and, at one point, had Danny Devito listed as a perpetrator. The vagueness of the list, while striking to readers, completely undermined the efforts of those trying to combat sexual assault, individually and wholistically.

The list’s complete lack of context was problematic because the severity of one’s alleged crimes matter. It is reasonable to assume that while that while sexual harassment and sexual assault are both wrong, one deserves more severe penalty than the other. There are also gray areas of sexual assault that we must acknowledge if we want to progress as a community and as a society without dismissing the discussion as counterintuitive to the movement. 

In an article in The Atlantic this September, Helen Lewis describes the new conversations feminist theorists are having in the wake of the #MeToo movement. She explains how one of these theorists, Amia Srinivasan, notes that “our language still lacks the words to describe the many varieties of bad sex that do not rise to the criminal standard of rape or assault.”

Correspondingly, there are conversations we need to have about the “varieties of bad sex.” For example, if society has established that an individual cannot consent to sex when they are intoxicated and encounter a situation in which two intoxicated people have sex, how are we to determine who is responsible? Are both of them culpable or neither? Context matters and the creator of the list did not provide any.

Many of those surveyed found @boysbeware.tulane to be a useful resource for women on campus as it had a “controlled audience” and provided in-depth details on the allegations, as one surveyee put it. 72% of students surveyed found the instagram account to be fair. However, as one surveyee said, “The instagram account was supposed to be a safe space and instead [the list] stole the privacy, freedom to report on their own, and security of people who had already experienced having their free will ripped away from them.”

A commendable product of the #MeToo movement and of highly publicized sexual violence cases such as Christine Blasey Ford’s was the campaign to believe survivors. This was necessary in a society that often fails to do so. However, in a situation such as the one presented to Tulane, there appears to be an unreasonable conflation between being inclined to believe the stories of survivors and assuming automatic guilt of the accused. 

Believing survivors and due process are not mutually exclusive. It is distinctions such as these that we need to be able to have honest conversations about, without politicization. 

70% of those surveyed found the release of the document to be unfair, 86% found the release of the document to be problematic and 58% of students would have rather it not been published. The list compromised the credibility of the allegations, which practically all sexual assault cases rely on, and by doing so, hindered the effectuality of the movement. 

Doing something provocative like releasing a list of assault allegations was certainly an effective way to grab the student body’s attention, but that is all it has done. Whoever the creator is, if they think of themselves as a vigilante or hero, they are gravely mistaken. 

There is no justice for survivors in the distribution of a list of unsubstantiated claims, in subjecting them to harassment and in taking away even more of their sense of privacy then that which has already been stolen from them. There is no justice in ruining the reputations of the accused without providing any proof or giving them the chance to defend themselves. 

Yes, Tulane has not adequately addressed its sexual violence problem. Yes, Tulane does not dole out sufficient consequences to assailants. However, instead of stooping to reactions such as these, students should be calling on the school to take specific actions, such as levying harsher punishments to those found guilty. 

Instead of demanding the school take action against those named on an anonymous list circulated through an anonymous messaging board, which they have no jurisdiction to do, the Tulane community should be creating spaces for students to openly discuss rape culture at Tulane and the steps the community can take to achieve reform. 

At the end of the day, parents are sending their teenage daughters off to college every year to attend “one of the most well-respected” universities in the country for what is often exalted as the best four years of their lives. But, 15% of them will be raped at least twice, 24% will be raped at least once, 40.5% will be sexually assaulted and all of those girls will become women in the worst possible way.

These same women will “grow” even more once they are confronted with the bleak reality that there is no justice. Instead they’ll see their rapist “buying pizza at the Boot” after enjoying a night out partying with their friends, existing in the luxury of blissful laxity that will never be afforded to the person they irreparably harmed.