Updates: PSU sanctions KDR & House Appropriations Committee calls for DOJ action on Cyber Bullying

Since March of this year, I have periodically blogged about online attacks on women who either use or are targeted through the use of social media. One was a video created by some of the women who have been cyber-bullied reading a few of the online threats they have received so that the public can see what they are facing. One dealt with the statistics associated with cyber-bullying. Another announced a Congressional briefing held on this issue on April 15. Another dealt with a proposed piece of legislation that might help reduce this form of violence. And the first one dealt with use of rape myths and social media by a fraternity at Penn State University to allegedly harass young college women. Congresswoman Katherine Clark.

Today, I have two updates.  One deals with Kappa Delta Rho (KDR), the Penn State University fraternity discussed in my first blog.  And the second one is the first outcome of a letter sent to the US House Appropriations Committee in March that was followed by Congressional briefing on Capital Hill in April.

Picture of a sign at the Window of Opportunity rally that says "End Rape Culture."

Sign seen at a rally in State College PA on a need to end rape culture.

PSU Sanctions KDR for Harassment, Cyber-Bullying, and Other Issues

Penn State University announced yesterday that KDR has been suspended for at least three years. The administration reversed the student-led Inter-Fraternity  Council (IFC) decision not to revoke recognition of KDR; the “sanction” recommended by the IFC was only to provide “a comprehensive new member education program and participation in sexual assault and bystander intervention training.” 

Instead, the University posted a news article on their website yesterday that clearly sanctions KDR for their cyber-bullying and maltreatment of women.  Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs, notified the IFC about the 3-year sanction in a letter stating,

“We base this decision on the sum of misbehaviors exhibited by various members of Kappa Delta Rho. Not every member of the chapter was equally culpable for violation of the University’s expectations for recognized student organizations. Even so, the sum of the organizational misbehaviors is far more than the University can tolerate from a student organization that seeks its imprimatur.”

The University cited hazing, underage drinking, the sale drugs, and the “persistent” harassment of two women along with the “photographing [of] individuals in extremely compromising positions and posting these photos [online].” Click here to read the entire letter.

picture of the US Capital

View of the US Capital that Rep. Katherine Clark associated with her press release regarding the House Appropriations Committee call for DOJ action on cyber stalking on May 27, 2015.

House Appropriations Committee Calls Upon Department of Justice to “Intensify” Efforts to Combat Cyber-Stalking and Bullying.

Meanwhile, this afternoon, I received an email from Steve Thornton, Legislative Aide to Representative Katherine Clark (D-MA-5) regarding the cyber threat appropriations letter Montana NOW, Pennsylvania NOW, and National NOW all signed onto in March that went to the House Committee on Appropriations.

Here’s a copy of the letter that Representative Clark sent to the Appropriations Committee.

Cyber Abuse Dear Colleague (2)

And here’s what the Committee is requesting the US Department of Justice to do to address the issue of cyber stalking and cyber terrorism of women:

Enforcement of Federal cyber-stalking and threat crimes.—The Committee is aware of concerns regarding increased instances of severe harassment, stalking, and threats transmitted in interstate commerce in violation of Federal law. These targeted attacks against Internet users, particularly women, have resulted in the release of personal information, forced individuals to flee their homes, has had a chilling effect on free expression, and are limiting access to economic opportunity. The Committee strongly urges the Department to intensify its efforts to combat this destructive abuse and expects to see increased investigations and prosecutions of these crimes. (p.31 of the Committee on Appropriations report in explanation of the accompanying bill making appropriations for Commerce, Justice, Science, and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2016).

In her press release, Representative Clark applauded the Committee’s action.  She stated,

“Too many women have had their lives upended by the severe threats and harassment they have received online, and they often feel they have nowhere to turn for help. These threats cause fear for personal safety, create a chilling effect on free speech, and have a negative economic impact for women conducting business online. That is why we [asked] the Department of Justice to enforce laws that are already on the books, and make these cases a priority.”

That’s Two for Two

Two successes within 24 hours of each other.  NICE!  Thanks PSU. Representative Clark, and all of the US Representatives, advocates, and organizations for your efforts to address these issues in an appropriate manner.

Helping Reduce Rape Culture: Two Legislative Ideas

Picture of a sign at the Window of Opportunity rally that says "End Rape Culture."

What we need to do to reduce/eliminate sexual assault, stalking, and harassment in our community.

I live close Penn State University where the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity’s online cyber bullying activities using Facebook to show explicit pictures of nude and/or inebriated women occurred. As a result of this action and the now ongoing investigations by both Penn State University and the State College Police, Erin Matson’s idea of reducing the legal age for alcohol consumption might be something that states might want to consider. I don’t know where I stand on this, but Erin does make a decent argument here.

Drinking age is a state, not a federal issue. So, if the drinking age were to be lowered, it would have to go through the state legislatures and be signed into law. Just like when the drinking age was raised back in the 1980’s.

To some extent, the same is true for any law that might be enacted to deal with online cyber-bullying and stalking, often known as revenge porn. If interstate commerce is involved in the bullying and stalking, federal law can and has been created (see here and here). If not, then this issue has to be dealt with at the state level.

States across the country have recently enacted or are considering bills to punish perpetrators of revenge porn and online cyber bullying or stalking. Here in Pennsylvania, legislators passed a “revenge porn” bill known as the “UNLAWFUL DISSEMINATION OF INTIMATE IMAGE AND DAMAGES IN ACTIONS FOR UNLAWFUL DISSEMINATION OF INTIMATE IMAGE Act;” it became law on September 8, 2014. It however does not cover online bullying outside of dating or marriage relationships since the law restricts coverage to a victim who is a “current or former sexual or intimate partner.” This law makes the non-consensual dissemination of such images a misdemeanor offense.

I understand that the PA legislature may now revisit this bill to expand the law to cover such types of bullying activities outside of an intimate relationship as a result of the KDR incident. When they do, I would recommend that they expand the law to all forms of cyber bullying and stalking in addition to any non-consensual dissemination of such images. This would include severe harassment and bullying threats that place a person in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury.

This proposal would, I believe, help create a state-based law similar to federal law (18 U.S.C. 875 and 18 U.S.C. 2261a) that “ makes it a federal crime to transmit threats of bodily injury in interstate commerce and criminalizes the use of electronic communication to place a person in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury.”

Finally, there will be a Congressional hearing on on-line cyber-bullying and stalking on April 15. This hearing is being set up by Representative Katherine Clark (D-MA) with the assistance of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. This hearing will focus on concerns about gender violence in all forms of social media. I’ll post a comment here once I find out where and at what time the hearing will be held.

Dealing with Frat Boys Who “Hold Women in Contempt”

Picture of a sign at the Window of Opportunity rally that says "End Rape Culture."

The theme of the Window of Opportunity Rally and March. This informal coalition was created last week as a “window of opportunity” to impact town and gown policies and programs to reduce/eliminate sexual assault, stalking, and harassment in our community.

A couple of days ago I reported on my participation in a rally and march on ending the rape culture at Penn State University and in the fraternity environment as expressed by the recent social media cyber bullying conducted by some members of the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity.

This morning, a member of a committee  I’m working with (thank you Bonnie) that is focusing on the cyber bullying issue sent me a link to an article in Salon that asks the question, “Why do some men hold women in contempt?”

In this article, Michael Kimmel, a professor of sociology at Stonybrook University discusses his research on men and masculinity and how perceptions of masculinity can and do result in behaviors such as what happened with Penn State University’s Kappa Delta Rho.

Kimmel argues that men often hold two views of masculinity. One view is that of the “good” man. The other is that of the “real” man.

The “good” man is a man who values honor and sacrifice and is willing to stand up for the little guy. And that “little guy” could be anyone, including women and others who are not part of their brotherhood.

The “real” man is a man who supports or values the view that to be this “real man” (a view often held by fraternity members according to Kimmel), you need to “man up.” Manning up includes things like never showing your emotions, never giving up, winning no matter what the cost, being a good “bro,” getting rich and getting laid.

Both views of what a man should be are often held by fraternity members. Mission statements of fraternities point to the “good” man ideal. Peer pressure within a fraternity leads the brother to “man up” and hold women in contempt with the negative behaviors linked to this view of what a “real” man should do.

Kimmel explains this disconnect between the values associated with the “good” man and the behaviors shown when women are held in contempt “as a kind of compensation for all of that manly sacrifice and teamwork” associated with being a member of the fraternity.

And this disconnect needs to be changed.

Men need to be held accountable for their contempt of women. Re-educating and adjudicating misdeeds of misbehaving frat boys within the university judicial system both need to be done. Dr. Kimmel has the right idea about this accountability. Here’s what he says,

My position on this is very simple. I think that we have to find ways to hold them to account. If you do something that is so disrespectful of others and you have basically violated something about the student code of conduct about the way you’re supposed to behave… these are the kind of things that I think campus judiciary committees should be talking about. I want to say to these guys, “You have broken something about the community, you have betrayed this community.You signed an agreement when you came to Penn State that you would abide by the student code of conduct. Well, you violated that. We now believe that you need to repair the damage you have done to this community.You’ve rent the fabric of the community and you have to repair it in some way.”

Frankly, this is something that campus judiciary can do because it’s a legal procedure, you have a constitutional right to due process in a criminal case.But you don’t have a constitutional right to go to Penn State. Penn State can decide you’ve blown it, you have now done something we find so egregious that we will now say you should separate yourself from this school; do something educational around the issues for which we are asking you to separate yourself, and then we will consider bring you back.

You have damaged the community, and now you have to do something proactive to repair it.

I agree. Penn State University, like every other university, has a Student Judicial Conduct Board. The Board has a written set of policies on student conduct that all students receive when they are admitted and which they agree to follow while at the university.

As I stated in the last blog, a full review of the policies at the university surrounding on-line cyber bullying needs to be conducted. Hopefully these policies currently  deal with such forms of misconduct. If the Judicial Conduct Standards are weak in this area, they need to be beefed up. Either way, the Board should follow Dr. Kimmel’s recommendations to the letter of the code with this current case and with all future acts of cyber bullying at the university.

Repair the damage you have done to the community. Educate yourself. Then and only then should you be allowed to come back.

Social Media Attacks on Women: Rape Culture at Penn State and Kappa Delta Rho

Picture of a sign at the Window of Opportunity rally that says "End Rape Culture."

The theme of the Window of Opportunity Rally and March. This informal coalition was created last week as a “window of opportunity” to impact town and gown policies and programs to reduce/eliminate sexual assault, stalking, and harassment in our community.

A little over two weeks ago, Penn State University’s Kappa Delta Rho fraternity was suspended by the national fraternity’s office and by the university after it was announced that the State College police were investigating the fraternity for possible criminal activity related to hazing, drug use, and the sexual exploitation of college women though the use of a private Facebook page.

The town and gown are now in an uproar.  Once again, the university is in the national spotlight for another instance of sexual misconduct.  This time via the use of social media.

So far two rallies have been held protesting the rape culture that pervades this town and campus.  One of the rallies was held yesterday. It included a speakout and then a march from the entrance gates of the University Park campus to Fraternity Row where the Kappa Delta Rho House is located.

I was the first speaker at the rally.  The following is the written version of my speech. Thank you to Michele Hamilton, NOW Mid-Atlantic Region Board Member, Vice President of Pennsylvania NOW, and President of Ni-Ta-Nee NOW and Marian Bradley, NOW Northwest Regional Director and Past President of Montana NOW for their assistance in putting these ideas together.

Once again, PSU has garnered a national demerit in the public’s view due to allegedly inappropriate sexual misbehavior.

We’re concerned that this mistreatment of women continues to happen in the PSU community.

These actions by KDR have resulted in the appropriate suspension of the fraternity. It also resulted in both police and campus declarations to further investigate what and how this happened. We applaud the University and the national office of KDR for taking these actions. We also applaud the State College police for their pro-active investigation.

We also believe that these types of sexist activities need to be reviewed within the greater milieu of the Penn State environment. This review needs to determine what additional policies and protocols should be implemented to prevent such future acts by members of the community and to hold perpetrators accountable for their misogynistic actions.

The PSU President’s Task Force on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment was charged by President Barron to “[combat] sexual misconduct and to [engage] all employees and students in a direct call to action.”   We call on PSU to add this social media bullying type of assaults to this review.

In addition to calling upon PSU to review their policies, we are also asking the public here and across the country to view these actions within the larger scope of online harassment of women. Here’s what we are talking about.

Gamergate. Doxing. Revenge Pornography. Swatting. Posting of pictures of hazing and of nude and unconscious women without their consent. Threats of rape and death via social media. These are all forms of cyber bullying that we have recently heard about across the country. And most of the victims have been women.

In light of these social media attacks, Pennsylvania NOW and Ni-Ta-Nee NOW ( the local NOW chapter) have signed on as organizational supporters of Representative Katherine Clark’s (D-MA) “Dear Colleague” letter sent to her Congressional colleagues in an effort to highlight concerns about gender violence on all forms of social media. This letter, through Congress’ oversight and review process, urges the US Department of Justice to “intensify their efforts to combat cyber stalking, harassment, and threats.”

After the speak-out, we marched to the Kappa Delta Rho House about 12 blocks away.  During the march several reporters came up to me for additional comments.  One of the reporters – Hannah Sarisohn for the PSU Daily Collegian asked me about the Task Force appointed by President Barron that I mentioned in my speech.

During our conversation, she asked me what I thought of the make-up of the student portion of the oversight committee. She told me that the only two student representatives are a sorority sister and a fraternity brother.  No other part of the student community is represented on this task force.  I said, “that’s not right. That’s not enough.”  She then used part of what I said in the article she wrote:

Joanne Tosti-Vasey, resident of Bellefonte and regional director for the Mid-Atlantic region of the National Organization for Women, said while the task force is a good step, more than fraternity life needs to be looked in to.

“We have students not in greek life who need representation. [Undergraduate students, graduate students, students of color,] LGBTA students and students with disabilities, everyone needs representation,” Tosti-Vasey said. “The task force needs to include people from all of these backgrounds.”

Finally, here are some of the pictures I took at the Rally and March:

Signs at that protest rally that say "Kick down rape culture" and "This is not satire."

The protest started and ended at the entrance gates to the Penn State University. About 50 people participated. These are a few of the signs seen at the rally.

picture of more protesters and signage at the Window of Opportunity Speak Out and March

More protesters and signage at the Window of Opportunity Speak Out and March

Picture of a toddler and her mother carrying a sign that says, "I want to grow up in a town what I know I am safe."

The youngest protester (three years old) at the rally carried her own sign on the shoulders of her mother. Here she is with her mother Gina Thompson of Bellefonte, PA who is speaking to one of the reporters that covered the event.

Picture of protesters shouting "Shame on You" in front of the Kappa Delta Rho House in State College, PA

After the speak-out, most of the protesters marched about 12 blocks to Fraternity Row to bring our protest to the front door of Kappa Delta Rho, the fraternity whose members created the online Facebook page that is now under investigation for potential criminal activities. Afterward we marched back to the Gates at PSU to wrap up the rally.