Name and Shame

Perhaps my least favorite thing about being an international student at Yale is the difficulty of keeping in touch with people back home. You only ever get time for quick phone calls, a flurry of photos and random text message updates at 3 a.m. over incidents that should have warranted hours of conversation. So, when I woke up to a text from a friend saying that our mutual friend had been publicly named as a sexual harasser, I was stunned.

The #MeToo movement, which started in the U.S. and quickly spread across the world in 2017, flared up in India once again in full force slightly more than a month ago. Women all across the country started finding the courage and support from communities — online and off — to finally be able to speak truth to power. This included everyone from Bollywood stars to comedians to academics. The numbers were so large they could be charted on Google’s “#MeToo Rising” platform — all of India was lighting up with courage, power and a fiery demand for justice.

Perhaps the most personally meaningful way this happened was across Indian college campuses, via anonymous Google forms and spreadsheets that circulated among students and faculty. A similar spreadsheet calling out harassers in the U.S. media industry in December 2017 identified more than 1,000 serious incidents of sexual misconduct and coercion. I remember thinking then that this approach was far-reaching, but it never felt quite as strong as it does right now.

For as long as I can remember, I have never hesitated in identifying as a feminist. Studying abroad at Yale this semester and coming together with the hundreds of other survivors who spoke out against the Brett Kavanaugh ’87 LAW ’90 nomination, combined with watching the movement back home gain traction, bolstered my belief in the need for action.

But as I watched the lists grow, more and more people being named, I wondered what form of action this should take. Over the coming weeks, two more acquaintances had been named anonymously in similar spreadsheets. The tone was angry, and the actions described were justifiably wrong. But when we list names on a public forum from behind the curtain of anonymity, what is the consequence that we’re expecting?

With a strong sense of urgency pervading through them all, the accusations ranged from detailed description of events, to calling for the expulsion or blacklisting of student being named, to simply naming alleged harassers without any further explanation. College administrations were being held responsible for not being proactive enough in tackling these issues.

People cited the “unfairness” of the anonymity and eventually questioned the credibility of the accusations themselves, which undermined the movement in an all-too-familiar way. But it does raise the question of who has the power to hold the alleged accountable. When does publicly naming harassers go from being an expression of courage and solidarity to taking matters into one’s own hands — and what is the impact of doing that? How can we be doing more than just naming aggressors?

When voices that have been repressed, out of fear and backlash, are finally heard, a measured tone should not be a baseline expectation. But when the same voices personally call future employers and leave anonymous tips against hiring the alleged assaulter, the question no longer becomes one of whether or not we are believing survivors, but rather of the kind of precedent for “due process” this approach is setting.

Moreover, if we do imagine a world where those who have committed acts of sexual misconduct own up and make amends, how do we envision this within the sphere of incredibly heartening retellings of the story on social media? Considering the short attention spans and lack of checks that characterize most of the dissemination of information online when we flag out certain individuals as people to be wary of, do we limit the space for growth and change?

Maintaining the delicate balance of being there for survivors, while still making sure that channels of communication are open, is essential not only for sustaining the strength and credibility of this movement, but also for determining the narrative of justice we are contributing toward.

Vrinda Sood | vrinda.sood@yale.edu .

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