In the midst of the #MeToo era, a controversial website created by University of Washington students is garnering international attention.
'Make Them Scared' allows people to anonymously accuse men of sexual assault, naming the accused without due process.
UW's college newspaper, The Daily, broke the story two weeks ago. The staff just finished a late night of work when journalist Manisha Jha first learned of it.
"As soon as I get home, 11 p.m., I get this email titled 'List of Rapists at UW,'" Jha said. "I was like well, uh, it doesn't end. The next day we all convened and discussed how to move forward."
Jha says the UW student emailing her was one of the creators of "Make them Scared," which as of Friday, outed about 50 accused sexual assaulters, including the type of incident, additional information, and if the individual was part of the Greek system. The site said it had received more than 300 submissions.
According to the site, the creators aim "…to give survivors a voice, and to make it known to attackers that they can't keep getting away with this…"
"[The creators] said this had really nothing with Brett Kavanaugh, it just happened it was all happening all at the same time," Jha said. "The timing was all about the 'Red Zone' and how the first six weeks of freshman fall quarter was the most dangerous for females getting assaulted."
After Jha and her colleagues broke the story, media outlets around the world picked it up. Many criticized it for naming the men without due process while allowing the accusers to remain anonymous.
"When we got the email we were like should we even touch this? This sounds like libel," Jha said.
But after talking with their attorneys, they published a series of stories, including reaching out to one of the men on the list.
"[He] flat out told me 'I always do my best to get consent, but I guess I didn't and I'm really sorry,'" Jha said.
Jha said it's up to the accuser to decide if the apology is enough.
According to The Daily's own editorial, 'Make them Scared' is a symptom of the problem -- not a solution.
Victor Balta, a spokesperson for the University of Washington, said the contents of the website are very concerning and they do not know who is behind it. The school encourages all victims of sexual harassment or assault to report it to administration or police.
'Make them Scared’ sent KING 5 the following statement on the intent of the website, their vetting process, and concerns about false reporting:
"Our site is intended to give survivors of sexual harassment and assault a way to hold their attackers accountable when filing an official report isn’t a viable option for them, for whatever reason. The survivor can tell their story to a public audience without having to worry about getting death threats, being called a liar, being insulted, and being socially ostracized, and by doing so can also warn potential future victims, possibly preventing further assaults.
It helps assuage any feelings of guilt survivors might have about not being able to warn others about their attacker, and helps them obtain a sense of resolution that they might not be able to get through other avenues due to the unreasonably high burden of proof placed on survivors in places like a court of law. Right now, victims are scared of the consequences of speaking out, and attackers aren’t afraid of the consequences of committing sexual assault. We want to turn that around."
"The system for vetting information has evolved as we’ve gotten more traffic/reports. For the first two days, names could be submitted anonymously. After that, we changed the system to require a social media account of the attacker so there’d be no confusion about people with the same names. We’ve been as transparent as possible about this on our site.
We now also require all accusers to include a link to a social media profile of theirs and a means of contact (email is preferred). When we receive a name, we first check the profile of the accused to see if it looks legitimate/matches up with other information in the submission (ie, location). If there’s anything that leads us to doubt its legitimacy, we ignore the rest of the submission.
The only thing we’re looking for when we verify claims is evidence that the claim is/isn’t legitimate. Beyond this verification process, we make no editorial changes to any of the accusations we post. We also google names to see if they match any prominent figures, like politicians, actors, celebrities, etc., in which case, unless the accuser has an especially credible claim, we will ignore. We’ve yet to publish any of these types of claims.
When relevant, we check public records like police reports/court cases to make sure locations, dates, etc. line up. From there, we check the profile of the accuser, again, making sure information is consistent. If that checks out, we email the address provided, and when we receive confirmation, we’ll publish the submission."
"We’ve received many more questions about the possibility of false reporting than about anything else, which I think is a great indicator of the sort of mindset we’re reacting to. We agree that falsely reporting someone of sexual assault is inexcusable, and we’ve said many, many times that we will remove the name of anyone who was falsely accused.
So far, no one has contacted us because the accusation against them was completely baseless, false, and fabricated. Some have contested certain details, contested that they “saw things differently.”
Is it possible for someone with malicious intent to completely fabricate a story of sexual assault and for us to unknowingly publish it on our site? Yes. Could they do the same thing but in a Facebook status? Yes. In a tweet? Absolutely. Even in court, after due process, false imprisonment happens. Does that mean we shouldn’t imprison anyone accused of rape? No. Because the number of these outliers, be they false accusations made on the internet or in court, pales in comparison to the number of rapes that go unprosecuted, unreported, and unconvicted.
It’s unfortunate that there’s no collateral-less solution to this issue, and it’s unfortunate that because of the way our system works, we’ve been forced to take sides. But unreported, unprosecuted sexual assault is an exponentially larger epidemic than false accusations."