Monday, May 10, 2010

Message to the President of American University regarding female student who identified two male students on Facebook as "rapists"

President Cornelius Kerwin
American University
4400 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20016

Dear President Kerwin:

Respectfully, I write to bring a potentially serious matter to your attention.
I founded the nation’s leading Web site that gives voice to persons falsely accused of rape and related purported offenses, The False Rape Society. False rape allegations, which have become our nation's silent epidemic, are unique in their capacity to destroy lives and permanently taint the accused as the perpetrator of a heinous felony because, unlike any other serious criminal accusation, rape accusations are often impossible to effectively disprove. Our site is allied with rape victims, many of whom have expressed support for our work precisely because every rape lie diminishes the credibility of every rape victim.

An incident chronicled in an article that appeared in the Washington City Paper about three members of your university's community is troubling.  The article, De-Friendly Fire: American University student makes Facebook rape accusation, is found here:  I know nothing more about this matter than is contained in the article, but I respectfully suggest it calls for an investigation.

According to the article, an American University student named Chloe Rubenstein posted an item on her Facebook page that identified two male American university students by name as rapists. According to the article, Ms. Rubenstein’s Facebook entry stated: “[W]e should all be aware! Stay away at all costs. They are predators and will show no remorse for anyone. If you have been effected by either one of these sickos please feel free to talk to me. With enough help we can take them down!”

If the article is correct, this Facebook post undoubtedly created a hostile and intimidating educational atmosphere for two presumptively innocent members of your university community.  It directly accused them, in an inappropriate manner and forum, of the second most serious offense after murder, and called on the community to exact some unspecified future retaliation against them.

The academy routinely regulates, admonishes, and speaks to misconduct that is otherwise merely a private matter and that, in other contexts, might even be legal.  A high-tech witch hunt instigated by a member of the university community that had the capacity to seriously harm two others, and that unquestionably left them effectively powerless to defend themselves against monstrous allegations, is scarcely consistent with the civility that American University is attempting to foster.  It is, for example, not at all consonant with a “community in which freedom of expression . . . [is] . . . provided to all its members free of all forms of discrimination or harassment,” in the words of the Student Handbook.

In an age where the ravages of cyber-bullying are well-known, it is not uncommon for colleges and other institutions to adopt social networking policies that speak to communications that reflect poorly on the institution and that hurt members of its community.  Among other things, these policies instruct the posters of such entries that not only can they hurt others, but that such postings are also potentially damaging to their own reputations and future employment prospects, given the permanence of virtually anything posted on the Internet.

It is well to note that rape lies have caused innocent men and boys to be killed and to kill themselves; to be beaten, to be chased, to be spat upon, and to be looked upon with suspicion long after they are cleared of wrongdoing; to lose their good names, their jobs, their businesses, their life's savings, their wives, and their girlfriends.  Many develop emotional problems that will plague them for the rest oft their lives.  One need not look back to the Scottsboro boys for examples of these atrocities. My Web site chronicles recent examples of each of the above. Young men of college age are already at greater risk to commit suicide than any other group; it would be tragic, and wholly unnecessary, if an incident of this nature prompted such a response. 

I respectfully suggest that it would be appropriate for the university to investigate this matter and for you to lend the moral weight of your office to address it.  Incendiary communications that can and do destroy innocent lives have no place in the academy regardless of the medium of communication.  Among other things, the incident should be investigated to assess whether it violates the university policy against “using . . . a messaging service[ ] to harass or intimidate another person . . . .” (University Codes, policies, and guidelines, page 106.)

The university is correct to speak out on behalf of rape victims.  But the victimization of our sons is no less deserving of either the university's protection or the moral support of your office than the victimization of our daughters.  In short, to allow one member of the university community to destroy the reputations of two other members is diametrically opposed to the values you are attempting to engender.


Pierce Harlan
False Rape Society