Tim Whyte | Sexual Assault and Naming Names

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The kids are naming names. I’m not.

But there’s been a flurry of local social media activity the past two weeks, and it’s alarming in several different ways. And, I think most adults in the Santa Clarita Valley are oblivious to it. 

The subject?

Sexual assault among teenagers.

The allegations range from squabbles that could be chalked up to young lovers’ quarrels all the way up to serial rape.

And some of it, according to the kids, is happening on local high school campuses. In the social media age, these things spread fast — and live forever online.

It’s all over Twitter. You wouldn’t have to look hard to find it, but if you’re an adult, chances are you aren’t seeing it in your feed, because the conversation is happening almost exclusively among younger people. Most of the people involved appear to be recent local high school graduates.

Many of the social media posts involve a victim deciding to speak their truth, which frequently includes publicly naming their alleged attacker. These are not cases where criminal charges were ever filed, and in some instances the kids blame adults in various roles for sweeping the incidents under the rug.

By way of example, in one tweet a girl accuses her ex-boyfriend of raping her on a local high school campus. The girl wrote that she was of course very distraught, and scared, and at first didn’t tell anyone about it. Then she told her mother, she wrote, and they went to the school administration. The boy was called in, denied it, and that was the end of that.

Another girl wrote that her ex-boyfriend had sexually assaulted her, and later he felt guilty about it so he confessed to his mother — who told him to keep it quiet to protect his future.

There’s much more detail in the posts, but you get the idea. There are other stories in similar posts, with the common thread being the alleged victims are now “outing” the alleged abusers, by name. They’ve drawn responses like this one: “I hope the predatorial guys who are scrolling thru their timeline seeing guys getting exposed for being sexual predators are scared and uneasy wondering if their name will come up.”

And lots of names have come up.

One user even started an online “burn book” of sorts — more of a “burn Google spreadsheet” — in which she was collecting the names and social media profiles of perpetrators of sexual assault. The list itself is not public, and can only be seen with approval from its creator.

“I have taken it upon myself to make a list of all the names that have been associated with sexual assault,” the young woman tweeted on July 1. “I have also been trying to find their social medias. If you or someone else wishes to add a name to the list my DM’s are open.”

Other kids have been lining up to add to the list — more than 110 names, according to one user — and another user separately, and publicly, posted a list of more than 20 names.

Apparently the blowback came quickly, as the Google spreadsheet creator wrote soon after: 

“Good morning everyone. Because I woke up to many parents texting, calling and messaging me on every platform saying they are filing lawsuits or whatever, I have privatized the list. I apologize for any inconveniences. And stop requesting to see it, I don’t need any more emails.” 

And another tweet: “Hi, if you or your parents wish to take legal action against me, please contact me through Twitter. The only messages I will be replying to will be in relation to that or people who wish to clear a name. AND STOP REQUESTING TO VIEW THE LIST!”

She then published a series of several tweets apologizing to about a half-dozen people whose names had, apparently, been part of the conversation. 

All of this is alarming for multiple reasons. First and foremost, if even a percentage of the allegations are true, we have a teen sexual assault problem in our community and we need to do something about it. If the social media posts I’m seeing are accurate, the SCV has numerous victims and perpetrators of teen sexual assault who have not had their justice served.

Secondarily, if even one of the allegations is false — perhaps, say, a trumped-up tale drawn from the imagination of a jilted ex — then there are kids whose reputations are being dragged through the mud, perhaps causing permanent damage to careers, livelihoods, future relationships and more.

Are any of the stories true, and if so, which ones? There’s no way to know. But there are so many of them floating around, it seems hard to believe there’s nothing there.

Therein lies the quandary: 

Some of the stories these kids are telling are absolutely heartbreaking, and if they’re accurate, there are victims out there who aren’t getting the justice they deserve. On the flip side, by “naming names,” it would be all too easy for a jilted ex to take out their resentment on a former high school crush by fabricating a story, or simply adding a name to the list.

In such a case, the person whose name is on the list is also a victim.

How to unravel it all? Honestly that may not be possible, especially considering some of the allegations are about events that happened several years ago and the alleged victims are just now speaking out. If there were never arrests or court records, there’s little we can do with it from a news coverage standpoint, since each case, with no public record to back it up, would be potentially libelous if the accusations turn out to be false.

I talked to a few local high school graduates — male and female — and they said the first time anyone ever talked to them about sexual assault was when they went to college. It seems more of those conversations need to be happening, earlier.

I know the William S. Hart Union High School District has pretty clear-cut policies on sexual harassment and reporting of such incidents, but considering all the local noise we are seeing about the issue on social media, it seems time for the district to take a hard look at what can be done to better prevent — and report, without fail — these kinds of incidents. Victims and would-be perpetrators alike need to have a firm understanding of what constitutes sexual assault, how to report it, and what the consequences will be for the perpetrators, up to and including criminal prosecution. 

And when those reports do come in, they need to be taken seriously rather than summarily dismissed.

With this much smoke, it’s hard to believe there’s not a fire in there somewhere.  

Tim Whyte is the editor of The Signal.

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