Content Warning: this story mentions sexual assault and retaliation.
Discourse around sexual assault and misconduct on campus has intensified in recent weeks. Students took to the St. Olaf Flirts and St. Olaf Hurts Facebook pages to discuss the prevalence of sexual misconduct on campus, the Title IX process, and a wide range of other related grievances.
The St. Olaf Flirts and St. Olaf Hurts Facebook pages recently published posts about sexual assault that alarmed the campus community. These posts were anonymous but often divulged specific details about cases of sexual misconduct. Despite these posts being deleted shortly afterwards, students have continued to debate how sexual misconduct is handled on campus.
St. Olaf Flirts and St. Olaf Hurts are public Facebook pages that post anonymous messages from people on campus. Students click a link, type what they want posted, and the anonymous moderators of the pages post them. In theory, Flirts posts flirts from the community, and Hurts posts inconveniences. When the moderators chose to post sensitive information about survivors and perpetrators of sexual misconduct, the situation quickly grew out of hand. One of the posts contained links for people to write down names of perpetrators and other posts were sharing personal information and experiences of sexual misconduct.
Many submitted and published posts have been deleted due to the harm and risk of the content. “We’re really grateful to have established a level of trust with students that makes them feel able to share information like this with us,” the St. Olaf Flirts moderator wrote in a message to The Olaf Messenger. “But there are some posts we choose not to publish because they seem to have potential to hurt people.” Eventually, the number of posts and their level of harm led the Flirts moderators to post a message sharing resources on campus and opposing vigilante justice.
St. Olaf Hurts has been disbanded after only a year on Facebook when a student messaged them about these recent posts, but St. Olaf Flirts has stayed up.
The discourse on Hurts and Flirts raised alarm among students in the Sexual Assault Resource Network (SARN). They were concerned that the discourse could be harmful to survivors of sexual misconduct.
SARN chair Zoe Golden ’22 explained concerns surrounding the Facebook pages. “A lot of the Hurts indirectly were victim blaming,” Golden said.
Another key concern for SARN was the potential for backlash from perpetrators of sexual misconduct. In an email to the student body on Nov. 8, SARN chairs Golden, Caroline Peacore ’24, and Emma Dougherty ’22 highlighted a harmful potential effect of the sort of discourse happening on Facebook. Under Title IX law, if an alleged perpetrator believes they have been discriminated against or harmed by the public with regard to a Title IX case, the case may be nullified, a concept called retaliation. Retaliation also takes more direct forms. “If a perpetrator hears ‘through the grapevine’ that aspects of their private lives have become public, they may reach out to the survivor, threatening the privacy and safety of the survivor,” the SARN chairs wrote in their email.
“Vigilante justice and public naming of perpetrators is also very harmful because of this element of retaliation,” Golden said.
During the week of Nov. 8, SARN hosted three events centered around supporting survivors of sexual misconduct. The events were planned before the online discourse gained momentum but adapted to discuss the evolving situation. SARN hosted a Supporting Survivors event on Nov. 9 and collaborated with the Music Department Student Committee on an event on Title IX policy and the music department on Nov. 14. Rhea Alley ’22 organized “Arise: A Safe Space for Women of Color” on Nov. 11 with assistance from SARN.
The event on Title IX policy and the music department holds particular relevance for the St. Olaf community because many of the Flirts and Hurts discussed the dangers of sexual misconduct in choirs, bands and orchestras. Dougherty credited the Music Department Student Committee for reaching out to SARN and expressing interest in a collaborative event. The committee is a unique feature of the music department that enables some degree of official communication between music students and faculty.
Students have been concerned about the music department’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations. Dougherty, who is also a member of the St. Olaf Orchestra, explained that the issue comes in part from the special nature of music ensembles, especially when on tour.
“It’s just really easy for these boundaries to be crossed. A basis of sexual respect is really valuable and important, and so it’s understandable why this is such an important issue for the music department especially,” Dougherty said.
The SARN chairs also noted that issues around sexual misconduct at St. Olaf go beyond the music department. “That’s not to say that there aren’t similar issues in other departments on campus who do not have the same kind of student momentum to reach out to SARN,” Dougherty said.
“Every department should be having this conversation,” Golden said.
SARN plans to continue putting on events to raise awareness about these topics. The Consent and Sexual Respect Initiative in collaboration with the Sexual Respect Team and the Wellness Center is also doing work to combat sexual misconduct on campus.
Note: SARN chair Caroline Peacore is also a News Editor for The Olaf Messenger.