NEW YORK (PIX11) — Somebody has been writing the names of alleged sexual assault perpetrators on stalls in Columbia University women’s restrooms. The university has wiped the names clean, as it attempts to do with all graffiti, which has led somebody to take the issue a step further.
PIX11 News has obtained one of possibly hundreds of fliers left in some of the campus’s most widely used women’s bathrooms. On the paper are the names of four male students whom the flier claims were either accused by women of serial sexual assault or who were officially “found responsible” by the university for committing a sexually violent act.
The bathroom in which the flier submitted to PIX11 News was found is on the main floor of the university library, which is very busy at this time of year, which is exam period. Its likely that many people have seen the fliers.
“It’s not like this was a fun thing to do for whoever wrote it, I’m sure,” said Cami Quarta, a Columbia University sophomore, who is herself a survivor of a campus sexual assault. She said that she has no idea who’s been behind the writing and publication of alleged attackers’ names, but, “Honestly it was a last resort, just out of desperation.”
Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, a Columbia junior who is also a sex assault survivor, has become friends with Quarta, in part because of their shared experiences fighting sexual abuse. Ridolfi-Starr said that she’d seen both the names written on a restroom wall, and the fliers in the same women’s room, after the writing had been removed.
“If we felt protected and safe, this wouldn’t be an issue,” Ridolfi-Starr told PIX11 News in an interview. “I’m really glad that I saw the names on that list because I can use the information to better protect myself and my friends, when the university has clearly failed to do that.
“The fact that so many students are really vocally saying ‘we feel unsafe, we feel scared enough to have to scribble on bathroom stalls to try to get justice, or to just try to keep other people safe from going through the pain that we’ve gone through,’” Ridolfi-Starr continued, “that demonstrates the climate here.”
Both women are part of a group of 23 who got the support of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, (D) New York, in filing a federal complaint about how Columbia has handled their cases of sexual assault. Ten more women have come forward since the original complaint was filed with the Civil Rights Commission last month.
They say their alleged attackers get suspended if found guilty of sexual violence by a university panel. Eventually, however, the sex assault violators are allowed to come back to the university, where they can take full advantage of all campus resources and facilities, including, in some cases, buildings and classrooms where there victims are.
“We have survivors who are taking the elevator up,” said Ridolfi-Starr, “and all of a sudden, their rapist gets in. And he should’t really even be here.”
She and the group of people — mostly female, but not exclusively so — who filed the federal complaint are calling on Columbia to be the main form of law enforcement for their specific situation, and to do a better job of it.
“If you want your rapist out of your class,” said Quarta, “the NYPD can’t do that. Columbia has to be involved. It has to be in charge of making sure that when you’re in the library studying for a paper, your rapist can’t be in that library.”
PIX11 News also saw announcements posted by the university saying, “The Rape Crisis/Anti-violence Support Center can help you with issues surrounding unhealthy relationships, sexual assault, stalking or all of the above and more.” While the announcements were posted in a men’s bathroom, above the urinals, where they’re very likely to be seen, the bathroom was in the much less busy Kent Hall.
In the far more crowded Butler Library and Lerner Hall Student Center, no such announcements were visible. By contrast, the names of alleged attackers were written on or published in women’s restrooms in Butler and Lerner.
For its part, Columbia University on Tuesday evening issued an official response to PIX11 News’s request for comment. It read: “To avoid chilling complainants from coming forward and to respect all parties involved, the University does not comment on the particulars of disciplinary proceedings regarding sexual misconduct. In addition, the University is mindful of the multiple federal laws that govern these matters and provide important protections to survivors of sexual violence and to students engaged in our investigative process. These laws and our constitutional values do not permit us to silence debate on the difficult issues being discussed.”
The issue of the bathroom stall lists was first brought to light in posts on the website of columbialion.com, http://columbialion.com, a student publication. Some responses online have said that the list seems to be an act of revenge by survivors seeking to get back at their alleged attackers.
“I’m not reading it as… an act of vengeance,” said Rodolfi-Starr. “I’m reading it as a helpful warning so you don’t end up in a dorm room with someone who’s raped five other women on campus.”