Putting Abusers in the Dog House

Last week, a new documentary The Hunting Ground opened, detailing the incompetence of colleges and universities in dealing with sexual assault. More than 90 institutions are under federal investigation for mishandling complaints, while four in 10 have not conducted a single investigation on their campuses in the past two years.

The Hunting Ground enters a contentious debate about how big of a problem sexual assault is and what should be done. Slate writer Emily Yoffe has denounced the film as a “polemic,” taking issue with the oft-cited stat that one in five women experiences sexual violence during her college years. Her advice to college women? Don’t get drunk.

Last month, Nevada State Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, with the backing of the NRA, proposed that female undergrads carry more guns. “If these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them,” said Fiore.

Self-defense and resistance classes are another strategy often proposed for reducing women’s vulnerability to sexual assault. Yet there are, of course, limits to this tactic.

We want to propose a different strategy for combatting sexual violence on and off campus. This tactic obviously won’t end sexual violence and has some serious drawbacks. Nevertheless, our proposal responds to the need to think outside the law-enforcement-and-prison-box in addressing sexual violence. We need more informal mechanisms for preventing sexual assault.

We call this tactic a Bad-BOYcott – that is, a selective boycott against those who can’t understand that “no means no” or who target those too drunk to consent. People, whether on or off campus, need more information about who are potentially dangerous dates and hookups.

We propose a virtual Dog House, a website that would “review” people to help identify those more likely to take advantage of a situation (specifically a drunk situation). Such a website would be the dating equivalent of Angie’s List, where people could find answers to questions like:

• Did this person make you feel uncomfortable?

• Would you get drunk with this person?

• Would you let this person escort you home while you were drunk?

• Did this person try to pressure you into going further than you wanted to go?

• Would you feel uncomfortable being alone with this person in a non-public setting?

Dog House would give “Dog” points for each affirmative answer. (Twitter handle @ElSabuesoAP uses dogs to symbolize the extent to which politicians are liars). Dog House would avoid explicit questions about rape, allowing viewers to look at the cumulative scores and read between the lines.

We need such a website because, let’s face it, the legal system does not serve the interests of sexual violence victims. According to the Department of Justice, survivors are particularly reluctant to report crimes when drugs and alcohol were involved. The arrest rate for sexual violence is approximately 25 percent. When people do report, one half of rape victims describe being “revictimized” by police. Victims can be treated as suspects and subjected to unreliable and humiliating polygraph exams. Prisons, which often lack adequate sex offender treatment programs, can foster violence and trauma, thereby perpetuating sexual violence rather than reducing it. Meanwhile, United Educators, a higher education insurance group, found that 72 percent of the payouts from lawsuits for campus sexual assault went to the accused!

The presumption of innocence, essential to our legal system both on and off campus, works against rape victims seeking justice. Those unwilling to make a police report may be willing to make a social report. In other words, a higher-tech version of good old-fashioned gossip.

Historically, gossip is one of the “Weapons of the Weak” – Yale political scientist James Scott’s term for the tools used by the relatively powerless to resist those with power. Like all weapons, gossip is not foolproof. It can hurt innocents’ future dating and job prospects. But gossip might be the best tool we have. Some 80 percent of rape survivors report that the offender was known to them, and research shows that campus assailants are often serial offenders.

But hasn’t somebody already thought of this? Recently, the name of the accused rapist of Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia University student who carried a mattress around campus to protest sexual violence, was released through Tumblr. There are websites, like badboyreport.kr, that let users provide names, numbers and email addresses of alleged cheaters, rapists and other untrustworthy romantic prospects. But badboyreport.kr doesn’t compile a score and is difficult to navigate.

The “girl only” app called Lulu comes closest to what we are looking for. This app allows women “to share their experiences to make smarter decisions.” Girls can fill out Cosmo-type quizzes, and other girls weigh in on the accuracy of the quizzes. Its flaw is that girls can only read and create reviews for guys who have signed up for Lulu. So guys ultimately control whether girls have information about them.

None of these websites and apps allows you to search by location. They don’t tell you how many dogs are at a party or which friends and acquaintances of your friends are more likely to have “high dog” scores.

Of course, just as disgruntled customers can report good plumbers as bad on Angie’s List, bitter exes and those with regrets might misuse this website. A danger of the Dog House is that good guys (or good women) could receive high dog scores. More troublesome would be if people read too much into high dog scores. One reason the Dog House would not have an open comments section like the badboyreports.kr is to avoid trolling and slandering. Another worry is that, whether they are justified or not, high dog scores could fuel vigilante violence.

That’s why the ratings system is key: If enough people feel strongly about giving someone a high dog score, then it is likely not a fluke. And Dog House would require people to sign in via their Facebook account, so even though their rating would be anonymous, users could not post multiple submissions or review themselves.

Ultimately, we’re not saying victims of sexual assault have to do anything. However, getting the word out about who is dangerous is one way victims can take back control over their lives, work toward holding perpetrators accountable and help others.