Content Warning: Sexual assault, sexual abuse.
A Twitter account created Wednesday called “Assaulters at UMich” posted a series of tweets calling out alleged sexual assaulters on the University of Michigan campus, including a professor. The account asked for direct messages from students with claims of sexual assault and posted these submissions to their page with the name and picture of the alleged assaulter along with any fraternity or athletic team affiliation.
The Daily reached out to the creator of the account via direct message, whose identity cannot be verified and asked to remain anonymous due to safety concerns. The creator told The Daily via Twitter direct messages that they wanted to help survivors because the University has failed to protect survivors from their abusers.
“At first I wasn’t sure if people would send in their stories, but once individuals started sharing their stories I was shocked at the sheer amount of individuals who have gone through these (traumas),” they said. “It just shows how prevalent sexual assaults (are) and that UMich needs to do a better job taking action.”
The creator said though they are not able to verify the submissions of alleged abuse that they are receiving, they are vigilant about deleting posts that are proven to be untrue.
The Daily reached out to the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center at the University, who cited a statement from Public Affairs.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald told The Daily in an email they are not able to verify the validity of the accusations, and they encourage victims of sexual assault to report their experience through University resources.
“We encourage anyone who experiences sexual misconduct within our community to report it to police and OIE so the concerns can be thoroughly and appropriately investigated,” Fitzgerald said. “Anonymous reports are very difficult or impossible to investigate fully. We are not in a position to confirm or deny any of this information. We offer these resources and encourage community members to seek any support or other assistance they may need, even if they choose not to report to the university or police.”
University employees such as former provost Martin Philbert, late former athletic doctor Robert E. Anderson and former associate professor of music Stephen Shipps have been accused of sexual misconduct in the past. A sex discrimination lawsuit was recently filed by a former University athlete against the University and James Henry, a track and field coach. There has also been controversy surrounding cross-examination guidelines with Title IX regulations, which can discourage survivors from reporting assault.
Students at other universities, such as the University of California at San Diego and the University of California at Los Angeles have created similar pages inspired by the “Assaulters at UMich” page to share experiences of sexual assault on their campuses.
University alum Joy Boakye had her experience being sexually assaulted shared on the page. Her message on the page included accusations of people disregarding her allegations because of the accused's prominent role in the Black community at the University.
Boakye told The Daily in an email that she feared reinforcing the harmful stereotypes against people of color, and that she was concerned with furthering white supremacy which also affects women of color.
“I also think that this is an illustration of how race colors sexual violence,” Boakye said. “Survivors of color are discouraged or feel terrified to report because (it would) be reporting someone in the community and that looks like betrayal.”
Boakye also shared she did not reach out to any organizations with her story because of how exhausting it was to speak of her trauma. She said the incident left her “suicidal,” “broken” and caused her to “sever ties with the Black community” because of how much more she claimed the accused person was valued than her.
Boakye said having a leadership role in the University community has enabled assaulters to get away with crimes in the past.
“If you are an athlete, if you are part of a fraternity, if you’re part of something that makes you the leaders and best, you know that you have the power to do whatever you want regardless of the consequences.” Boakye said.
LSA senior Hevhynn Jackson said she supported the goal of the account because it allows victims to regain their voice amid trauma.
“The biggest way that trauma and sexual assault works is to silence you is to make you feel ashamed and one really powerful way to combat that is to use your voice,” Jackson said. “This is a platform that is allowing survivors to use their voice in whatever way is comfortable for them … At the end of the day, it’s about the survivors being able to reclaim their body and reclaim their story by using their voice. I think that the platform was a great way to get it handled.”
However, Public Policy junior Emma Sandberg, Roe v. Rape founder, told The Daily she did not agree with the creation of the account because it could lead to defamation lawsuits by those who are accused. However, she said there is a problem with how the University handles sexual assault if survivors feel more comfortable sharing their experiences online anonymously rather than directly to the school.
“The fact that many of these survivors feel more comfortable disclosing their assaults to an anonymous user than to University officials speaks volumes toward the inadequacy of the current processes available and the University’s failure when it comes to supporting survivors,” Sandberg said. “It is important to keep in mind that many of those who are sharing their stories on this account want their voices and stories to be heard and want to hold their perpetrators accountable, but clearly don’t feel that reporting will give them either of these things — and they are probably right. This should be a wake-up call to the University to do more and start taking this issue seriously.”
Several members of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity were accused on the Twitter account. The fraternity released a statement saying that all members know the consequences of such actions and they will investigate more into the matter.
“Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. is currently reviewing the allegations made against two members at the University of Michigan,” the statement said. “While we do not comment on any cases or ongoing investigations, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. takes all allegations of sexual misconduct by our members very seriously and has strict policies against these alleged actions.”
The Bangladeshi Student Association released a statement after a former member was accused on the Twitter account. They wrote they condemn all forms of sexual misconduct and are “committed to providing a safe space for all members of the University community.”
“It has recently been brought to the attention of the Bangladeshi Students Association that an individual formerly associated with BSA Executive Board has been accused with multiple allegations of sexual misconduct,” the statement said. “BSA wants to make it clear that any form of sexual misconduct will never and should never be tolerated. It is our role as leaders on campus to firmly deal with instances of sexual harassment brought to our attention and develop awareness and an environment that denounces such behavior. BSA has taken immediate and appropriate measures to remove the accused individual from the organization.”
The next day following the creation of the account, the owner announced their twitter account had been hacked. As a result, they decided to make the page private and stopped posting direct messages for the next 24 hours.
However, the account owner has shared that they have spoken to Twitter about keeping their submissions safe and have started posting direct messages again.
LSA freshman Nicholos Daniel tweeted in response to the account that he condemns the actions of those accused. Daniel told The Daily said he was disappointed with the posts he was reading on the account page and praised the courage of those speaking out against their alleged abusers.
“I feel that now that this information is being published, the University needs to take steps to punish those who commited an unjust act,” Daniel said. “For the individuals themselves, they need to understand the concept of consent. We surround ourselves everyday by people who are matured and this shows that they have not. Friends, allies, etc. all need to do whatever they can to make sure that these people are brought to light so that no more victims fall prey to them.”
Summer Managing News Editor Jasmin Lee and Daily Staff Reporter Varsha Vedapudi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and varshakv@umich.
This is a developing story and the article has been edited since its original publication on June 4, 2020.