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One, Two, A Thousand Rape Walls: A Journalistic Effort To Collect Anonymous Rape Allegations

November 4, 2014

At Brown, when there was no place else to tell the story, they wrote it on a wall.  That was 1990, and now almost a quarter century later we’ve had a national moment of recognition that campuses stonewall rape allegations and the same tactic was the last resort at Columbia.  The truth is, until we’re ready to create a climate where rape and abuse survivors come forward and stand behind their allegations, our choices are anonymous allegations or letting predators operate.

And we’re talking years of racking up victims.  There are now so many allegations against Ghomeshi that the journalist who broke the story literally cannot report them all.  He has a proposal, and the proposal is a virtual rape wall.

Here is the Storify of Jesse Brown’s tweeted open letter to his fellow journalists.  Here is the text, pasted together:

I need help solving a problem. More people are sending me more allegations.  Each allegation must to be investigated, and in each case, the accused must be given opportunity to respond.  If the allegations are credible, each must be reported to the public.  I do not have the resources at this point to investigate, seek comment, and report each claim myself in a timely manner.  No CDN paper is likely to print a new article every few days announcing”x” number of new allegations, esp. if similar to past allegations.  Newsworthiness of new allegations will, I fear, be determined by strangeness, extremity, and willingness of accuser to go on the record.  The result would be a penalty for accusers who did not come forward first.  They could be left w/ no voice unless they reveal their names or provide shocking/salacious new details.  The public interest is also penalized. Canadians must know the full # of accusations, how long this has been going on, where, etc.  My proposal: a data journalism project, hosted perhaps by a traditional News Org. An online “Allegation Tracker”.  Users can SECURELY submit accusations, tips, or corrections. Accusers can choose anonymity or not, describe what happened, etc.  Journalists then contact and intvu accusers, verify as much of each account as possible, put allegations to the accused for comment.  Allegations that meet all standards are then added to a public-facing data map that can be mashed up by chronology, type, response, etc.  Allegations already reported by other News Orgs will also be added to the Tracker.  The Tracker then exists as a permanent living document of all credible allegations.  Once I find a partner org, I will ask those who trusted me with their allegations for permission to pass them on to this partner.  I am eager for feedback & criticism on this approach and I’m open to other methods of fully reporting all credible allegations.  Which News Org will host the Allegation Tracker, or something like it? Please contact me.


First, that’s just a virtual rape wall with a vetting process.  That’s trial-by-press.  And I am all for it.  I expect a lot of people will be for it, now, because it’s specific to Ghomeshi, and basically we’re all pretty sure we know what he did, just not when or to how many.  (We’re mostly all sure.  Some people have publicly declared that they will never draw a conclusion about Ghomeshi based on what becomes public.  I said what I think of that.)

But how long will it be before someone uses this to make an allegation that’s not about Ghomeshi, one that’s about a public figure, someone the media would perhaps report on?  Because if Ghomeshi is out there — and we now have some reason to believe that he may have been engaging in similar abuse since 1988 or even earlier, that his university Resident Adviser warned women away from him — how many Ghomeshis are out there?  How many wealthy or famous or powerfully placed serial abusers can go on from year to year, decade to decade, living out a pattern of target identification and abuse, shielded by some social dynamics from consequences?

(Let alone the non-famous, the pedestrian and non-public figures whose social license to operate is issues on other grounds, like that their targets are in many ways not the perfect victim.  I don’t know how to get the press to report about them.)

And shouldn’t we be willing to slog through the reports to find out?  Shouldn’t someone? Let’s all accept that there will be some quantum of false reports, whatever that quantum is … and that only if the reports are made, can anyone investigate them to know if they are credible or not.  Since we cannot deny, if we ever did, the possibility of a Ghomeshi, victimizing countless people for literally decades, don’t we accept that it’s worth the effort to get the reports and figure it out?  And that, while any one report may be false, four or five or ten about the same person from different periods and different people are highly unlikely to be fabrications, and also pretty unlikely to be the result of mistake or miscommunication?  Yes, I do.  If you don’t, I don’t care what you think.

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