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Alleged "rapist list" appears around Columbia University

By Lawrence Crook III, CNN
May 15, 2014 -- Updated 1232 GMT (2032 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A list of alleged "rapists" is circulating among Columbia University students
  • A staff member named on the list was forced to resign from online student news site
  • The campaign has generated both support and outrage at Columbia

New York (CNN) -- Fliers with the names of four alleged campus "rapists" are being circulated at New York's Columbia University in an apparent vigilante effort to warn women of potential sexual assaults.

One flier obtained by CNN has the names of the alleged offenders under the heading "Rapists on Campus." Three of the names include the claim that the men were found "responsible" for sexual assaults by the university. A fourth name is identified as a "serial rapist."

In a statement, an independent, student-run online news site said it demanded that a staff member named on the list "permanently and immediately resign from their position."

"Our decision does not reflect a position on the innocence or guilt of this former staff member, nor does it comment on, take a position on, support, implicitly or explicitly, any allegations of fact or law made against such person," the statement said.

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It's not known who is behind the campaign, which has generated both support and outrage around campus. The university declined to comment on the fliers.

"It's not like this was a fun thing to do for whoever wrote it, I'm sure," Columbia sophomore Cami Quarta, who said she's a sexual assault survivor, told CNN affiliate WPIX. Normally, CNN does not name sexual assault victims but did in this case after Quarta's on-camera interview. "Honestly, it was a last resort, just out of desperation."

Earlier this month, 23 students filed a federal complaint against Columbia University, alleging the school failed to protect victims of sexual assault, according to a statement from the students.

The complaint alleges the Ivy League university discouraged students from reporting sexual assaults, allowed perpetrators to remain on campus, sanctioned inadequate disciplinary actions for perpetrators and discriminated against students based on their sexual orientation, according to a statement from the students, who are calling themselves Our Stories CU.

The complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Education, alleging violations of Title II, Title IX and the Clery Act by Columbia and Barnard College, the affiliated women's school. In a statement, the university declined to comment on the allegations but said it had taken "a series of significant new measures dedicated to preventing such sexual misconduct."

Some students have praised the distribution of the fliers as a "vigilante" effort aimed at protecting women; others have taken to social media to call it a "witch hunt."

One student who said she was the victim of a sexual assault on campus told CNN that the campaign appeared to be created "to warn other girls at school that these men are still enrolled and pose a threat to their safety." The student, a senior at Columbia, asked that her name not be used.

Emil Ostrovski, a graduate student in creative writing, said he understood the rationale for the list.

"On the other hand, it's a very serious thing to accuse someone of and can have serious repercussions for that person," he said. "I feel uncomfortable about people making accusations with impunity."

Amy, another Columbia graduate student in creative writing, said the list includes some "big names" on campus.

"I don't think it's anybody's right to put information in the world that hasn't been proven," said Amy, who asked that her last name not be used.

She added, "If somebody were angry at someone else or feeling vindictive, they could put someone's name on the list."

According to New York Police Det. Marc Nell, none of the four names on the fliers appear in a 2014 database as being involved in any criminal activity.

Columbia University declined to comment directly on the fliers but issued a general statement: "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. In addition, the University is mindful of the multiple federal laws that govern these matters and provide important protections to survivors of sexual violence and to students engaged in our investigative process. These laws and our constitutional values do not permit us to silence debate on the difficult issues being discussed."

The author of the fliers added a line at the bottom saying, "To the Columbia Community: Stay safe, protect and support each other and always, always, make sure to have sober, enthusiastic, continuous consent."

The names of four students were first discovered by university officials scribbled on the wall of a women's bathroom in Columbia's Hamilton Hall on March 7, according to Columbia officials. Those names were promptly removed by the janitorial staff.

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CNN's Ray Sanchez contributed to this report.

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