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Facebook Site Prompts Sexual Assault Charges At College

A male student at Lewis & Clark College has been suspended after a group rallies around a site devoted to exposing his alleged attack on a female sophomore.
A student at Lewis & Clark College, in Portland, Ore., has been suspended over allegations of sexual assault that originally surfaced on a Facebook page.

The Facebook group that targets a student named Morgan Shaw-Fox was posted (and later removed) before the alleged victim of the assault had reported the incident to either campus officials or Portland police. In fact, the woman -- who went public in a story in the Willamette Week newspaper -- has never formally reported Shaw-Fox's actions to law enforcement.

Sophomore Helen Hunter "admits she initiated the encounter. But she eventually withdrew her consent, she says," wrote Beth Slovic of Willamette Week.

The case of Hunter and Shaw-Fox, who has been suspended for the spring semester, has roiled the picturesque, insular Pacific Northwest campus (which has 1,900 undergraduate students) and raised questions about sexual politics in the online social-networking world.

Hunter said that Shaw-Fox forced her to perform oral sex after an evening of drinking and "making out" in Shaw-Fox's dorm room on Oct. 10, 2007. The two had had an on-again off-again friendship after she became alarmed at his aggressive come-ons, she told the paper.

One week later, Hunter wrote an anonymous letter to the editor of the student newspaper, The Pioneer Log, claiming that a "well-known, well-respected young man" had assaulted her.

A month later, a group of women decided to identify the alleged assaulter. Though Hunter had not lodged a formal complaint, they posted the invitation-only Facebook group with Morgan Shaw-Fox's name. The page was removed after creating an on-campus furor. Hunter filed a complaint with campus officials on Dec. 13.

"On Dec. 18, Hunter and Shaw-Fox went before a campus judicial board to discuss what happened Oct. 10," Slovic reports. Two days later Shaw-Fox was suspended; earlier this month he sent an e-mail to Willamette Week saying that that he planned to appeal the board's decision. He has never been charged with a crime. Campus officials have declined to comment on the Hunter allegations. Students say that, if not for the Facebook page launching unsubstantiated charges at a student with no police record, the entire matter may never have come to light.

"Facebook is completely safe from authority, and it's completely real within your network of friends," L&C student Isaac Holeman told Willamette Week. "It's ... as real as if they'd said it in the cafeteria. It's more real, actually, since it's text. It's written in stone."

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Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing