Alleged Sexual Assault Incident Lives On Due to the Internet

By: Grant Cruise Email
By: Grant Cruise Email

HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) -- Part III of this series focus on how the story of Butter's alleged assault ended up on the Internet.

Wherever you go with other people, chances are someone is going to have a cell phone camera.

Studies show one in four women will be sexually assaulted before leaving college, 80 percent by someone they know and 50 percent involving alcohol. These are startling statistics, but as one James Madison University family learned, social media can give these tragedies a life of their own.

"Someone called me, said you know like, ' You're name's not on it yet, but there's a post about the two boys on School Dirt talking about what happened with you," said Sarah Butters, "You Google our names and it's one of the first things that comes up now.

Butters says she was drunk and sexually assaulted during spring break of 2013. She said one of the three JMU fraternity brothers that took advantage of her and made a cell phone video and it spread like wildfire.

"I mean it was pretty humiliating that it was being talked about online," explained Butters, "The video had already gotten sent around to dozens and dozens of people. And was talked about by even more than that. People were hearing about it and now they can read about it online."

Anonymous posters shared what they heard about the assault, asked if anyone had seen the video,named the people involved and even the victim.

It took less than 90 seconds to make the Sarah Butters video and possibly less than a minute to put it online.

"It was just like made public and it was out of my control. It was online and there wasn't anything I could do about it," said Butters.

JMU declined to speak with us about School Dirt after the Sarah butters case, but last year, JMU spokesman Bill Wyatt spoke to WHSV about School Dirt and gossip websites.

When asked if students would be warned or alerted to the existence of the website, "We don't feel the need at this point to provide another forum for these websites to proliferate and for the vile things that are being spread on these websites," said Wyatt. "You know there's not a lot for the university to do right now because everything is anonymous."

However, not everyone at JMU agrees.

"Universities don't want to be police departments. That's the last thing in the world they want to do, but in fact we are. We have a judicial code which we enforce," said Dr. Bob Roberts, a political science professor at the university.

A few moths ago, before the Butters case came to light, Roberts said that JMU and other state colleges could push lawmakers for power to subpoena IP addresses to reveal where the posts are coming from.

"At least come up with some way to deal with it. In other words, some solution to it. Because if it's as bad as it may appear to be it could have devastating consequences to students," said Roberts.

For now, rumors about what happened between Butters and those young men remain online. At the fingertips of future employers, boyfriends, girlfriends or anyone on the web.

"Even my friends, it has affected all of them as well. I've lost friends. My relationship with my family isn't going to be the same," said Butters.

Recent court rulings against Google and websites like TheDirty.com show a growing shift among judges in favor of individual privacy rights.

Virginia Delegate Mark Keam is backing a new cyberbullying bill he hopes will address defamation issues presented by websites like School Dirt.

The White House is targeting college sexual assault, which it calls an epidemic. President Obama has established a task force to prevent sexual assaults at colleges. Two JMU students have been asked to serve on that panel.


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