In a new lawsuit filed by the University of Kentucky against one of its student newspapers, the college claims that simply by reporting on sexual harassment allegations against an associate professor, the paper is discouraging students from coming forward to report other alleged sexual assaults.
UK says the Kernel’s reporting is “intimidating” victims of assault, and effectively dissuading them from bringing their cases to the university’s “Intervention and Prevention Center,” which investigates sexual assault allegations.
The center claims 59 people reported sexual assaults between July and October 2015, but the number fell to 38 this year. Yet, there was a similar decline in reporting of sexual assaults in the past, according to McClatchy DC website.
Ashley Rouster, UK’s intervention program coordinator, says that “since publication of the Kernel’s articles, new students to the (Intervention and Prevention Center) have asked pointed questions regarding who will find out about their reports and specifically fear their story might appear in the paper.”
“Based on my experience in this field, I believe the Kernel’s publication of articles related to this case has caused students to be reluctant to report incidents of interpersonal violence for fear of media attention,” she added.
The editor of the paper, Marjorie Kirk, who reported about James Harwood, an associate professor who resigned from the university following allegations of sexual harassment yet faced no disciplinary action and continued to receive paychecks for at least half-a-year, disagrees with that assessment.
Kirk said: “I’ve seen the opposite effect,” adding: “I’ve had more people come to me to tell their stories because they’re distrustful of the university and how it handles assault.”
Student journalism organizations have criticized the university’s decision to blame a free student publication for what they say is simply doing its job. Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, called the UK’s attack a “shameful manipulation.”
He also said: “This may be a new low in terms of playing on the public’s empathy for survivors of sexual violence,” adding, “to try to manipulate that empathy to score legal points is beyond the pale, but evidently nothing is beyond the pale for this university.”