Columbia Students Send a Message About Sexual Assault

Thursday, May 15, 2014
Columbia University is struggling to find a way to combat a new form of outing alleged sexual predators.

The names of four alleged perpetrators were written on a school bathroom wall last week. The names were quickly removed, but in the days that followed, more postings and flyers emerged across the New York City-based campus.

Zoe Starr didn't post the signs, but she is one of 23 students filing a federal complaint against the Ivy League school for failing to protect victims of sexual assault.

"People feel so scared and so desperate that they're turning to scrawling warnings to other students on bathroom walls," Starr said.

Sexual assaults on college campuses - and the handling of the cases - are growing problems nationwide. According to a White House task force, one out of five female college students has been sexually assaulted, and just 13 percent of survivors of forced sexual assault report the attacks.

Columbia was not among a recent Department of Education investigation of 55 colleges over the handling of sexual violence complaints, but the school has now been thrust into the conversation.

"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," university officials told ABC News.

Previously, reacting to the White House's release of guidelines for colleges to combat campus sexual assault, the school said it "remains committed to ending such unacceptable behavior."

ABC News Chief Legal Affairs Anchor Dan Abrams said the graffiti and flyers could come with legal consequences.

"Number one is you write on a wall, it could be vandalism," Abrams said. "Number two is the potential you get sued."

Starr believes that some progress has occurred due to the postings and flyers.

"One thing that the list has done is to raise the stakes and really convey the desperation and urgency that people feel," she said.

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