A website created by University of Washington students allows users to anonymously post the names of men who have allegedly committed sexual assault — an act that could land the site’s administrators in legal hot water.
The website, called “Make Them Scared UW,” does not vet the accusations posted to the website in any meaningful way, and some moderators told UW’s student newspaper, The Daily, they want more information from accusers. But the creators of the site certainly want to vilify men who may or may not have actually committed sexual assault, but say they designed the website to be another resource for accusers.
“Our goal is simple: we want to make the world a safer place for people vulnerable to sexual attacks, beginning with college campuses,” the moderators told The Daily. “We want to give victims a sense of justice and rest that other avenues deny them.”
These moderators also say they “verified each claim to the best of our ability, and have not published any claims which we believed to be false.” They also say that anyone whose name is published “inaccurately” can let them know so they “can remedy the situation.”
Eight names were published on September 26. As of October 1, the website had “41 accusations of sexual assault or harassment,” according to The Daily. Several names have been removed.
The allegations, according to The Daily, cover a wide range of acts. Some people are simply named with an allegation, other posts include where the accused works or their campus affiliations. Many of the posts say the accusation was not reported. The website isn’t even limited to accusing UW students, either.
So, this website allows anonymous accusations against named people, with no meaningful verification and without any requirement or avenue to report the incident to someone who could actually do something about it. They’re channeling Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
As one might conclude, anonymously accusing someone of a crime without any evidence to back it up could result in a defamation lawsuit.
Zahr Said, an associate professor at the UW School of Law, told The Daily about the risks associated with such a website.
“They’re facing considerable risks of a defamation lawsuit by anyone whose name they mention in connection with a criminal behavior or sexual assault that gives rise to civil liability,” Said said. “So, the very worst possible situation for them, from a liability perspective, is what they’re doing.”
The College Fix contacted one of the students named on the website, who said he had been investigated by UW for the incident and there was not enough evidence to support disciplinary action. He said he did not sexually assault his accuser and the incident occurred after a night of drinking during which he performed oral sex on her. When he tried to initiate sexual intercourse, she told him she didn’t want to, so he “backed off.”
“This girl gave the investigator at my school literally everything, our Facebook messages, our snapchat messages (she saved all of them), text messages, and even my reddit account and I was deemed to be so not a threat to her that the investigator didn’t even care if I was in the same class as her,” the student told the Fix.
The Fix also contacted UW spokesman Victor Balta, who said the website’s contents were “very concerning” but that he couldn’t be certain it was run by UW students. When asked if posting the name of a student and falsely accusing him of sexual assault could be considered harassment, Balta told the Fix: “If the university received a complaint that an individual was being harassed or bullied by a student, we would investigate it in the same manner as we would any other case.”
Students at Columbia University did something similar by posting the names of accused students on bathroom walls. One of the named students was Paul Nungesser, who was cleared of charges that he raped fellow student Emma Sulkowicz (better known as “Mattress Girl”). Nungesser sued Columbia and received an out-of-court settlement.