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January 9th, 2008 BETH SLOVIC | News Stories
 

Trial By Facebook

When Lewis&Clark students decided to warn others about Morgan Shaw-Fox, they didn’t go to the authorities—they went to their computers.

     
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Morgan Shaw-Fox, 21
IMAGE: darryl james

Last month, officials at Lewis&Clark College suspended Morgan Shaw-Fox, a scholarship student from Boulder, Colo.

Most students at Lewis&Clark follow the rules and rarely get in trouble. When they do, it’s often because of flagrant drug use or underage drinking.

Not in this case. According to a number of sources on campus, Shaw-Fox was ordered to leave for one semester for a transgression that is both rarely discussed and, according to experts, very common on college campuses.

Helen Hunter, a sophomore at Lewis&Clark, says Shaw-Fox forced her to perform oral sex on him the night of Oct. 10. Both of them had been drinking, she says.

“Once things got pretty violent, I didn’t know how to get out of it,” Hunter, who’s 19, told WW of the alleged assault. (She agreed to let WW publish her name and photograph.) “I’m a pretty strong person, but I didn’t know what to do.”

Hunter’s allegation shook the normally placid and insular campus at Lewis&Clark, one of the Pacific Northwest’s more elite institutions, where annual tuition plus room and board cost $40,000.

This was in part because Shaw-Fox was a well-known student, a charismatic 21-year-old junior with ambitions of becoming an actor. A beat-boxer and singer, Shaw-Fox had created Lewis&Clark’s first a cappella group.

But the case also rocked the college because of the way Shaw-Fox’s alleged sexual transgression was publicized on the 2,000-student campus: through a Facebook group called “Morgan Shaw-Fox is a Piece of Shit Rapist.” (The Facebook page itself contained no allegations of rape.) A story in the campus newspaper followed (but didn’t name Hunter or Shaw-Fox), and after Hunter filed an official complaint with the college, administrators convened a hearing. Two days later, college officials suspended Shaw-Fox for a semester, ordered him to seek counseling, and prohibited him from participating in a study-abroad trip to London, which starts this month.

Hunter calls what happened to her something akin to “gray rape,” a term she learned from an article in Cosmopolitan written by Washington Post journalist Laura Sessions Stepp. Hunter admits she initiated the encounter. But she eventually withdrew her consent, she says. “The whole thing was very confusing to me, and I didn’t know what to do about it for such a long time,” she says.

The uproar speaks to the much larger issues around sexual politics

on campus—and the young adults who are asserting their independence for the first time.

Colleges and universities across the country encourage experimentation and recognize that this includes sexual experimentation. But most colleges, including Lewis&Clark, say they draw a hard line at abusive or threatening behavior. They then rely on students to report those who have crossed that line.

Some would say the line is gray. Others would say it’s neon yellow with flashing lights.

When it comes to assault, students themselves are often either too afraid or too ambivalent to make official complaints. As a result, experts say the frequency of sexual assault on campus, including date rape, is underreported.

“The nature of sexual interactions and the sexual politics of campus social events mean that this is an issue that won’t go away,” says Kimberly Brodkin, a gender studies professor at Lewis&Clark.

The difference today is, students have new tools for responding to sexual assault allegations, ones that make the ubiquitous blue-light security phones that appeared on campuses in the 1980s as outdated as chastity belts. “Facebook is completely safe from authority, and it’s completely real within your network of friends,” says Isaac Holeman, a junior at Lewis&Clark. Every word posted on Facebook is attached to the author’s name, photograph and contact info. “It’s what makes it 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.”

Say this about Shaw-Fox—he does apparently have a degree of appeal. “He’s so good at drawing people in,” says Jess Jarris, a sophomore who used to date Shaw-Fox. “He does have this kind of magic.”

Hunter noticed this, too. “Morgan had a very sexual and hot vibe coming from him,” she says. “Like, ‘Wow, he’s really got it.’”

Shaw-Fox’s Facebook page is a typical catalogue of relationships and interests. It includes hundreds of photos of him and says his activities include “copin’ [sic] a feel.” He also has a MySpace page, which includes a “recipe” for how to make a “Morgan”:

Ingredients: 3 parts competetiveness [sic]

3 parts self-sufficiency

3 parts beauty

Method: Stir together in a glass tumbler with a salted

rim. Add a little lustfulness if desired!”

His nickname for himself on his MySpace page is “Morgazm.”

Helen Hunter met Shaw-Fox before school started in fall 2006, when she was a freshman. She was on campus early to start practicing with Lewis&Clark’s cross-country team.

Hunter is a history major who attended boarding school in Ohio. As an intern at the PBS affiliate in Kent last summer, she blogged about politics. She wants to be a writer.

“I was settling in, getting used to the dorm,” Hunter says, “and I was really excited for everyone else to get here. So I’m walking around the dorm, and I see Morgan.”

The two became friends. But one night, after Hunter had gone to bed early in preparation for a cross-country meet the next morning, Shaw-Fox walked into her unlocked bedroom and woke her up, Hunter says. She says he pulled her out of her bunk bed and into the hall.

“This is our first kiss, and I’m like, ‘Man, you’re drunk,’ and he’s like, ‘Yeah, I know,’” Hunter says. “The next day at the cross-country meet, I was all pumped because I thought he liked me.”

They lived in the same dorm, so they continued to hang out. On another night, Shaw-Fox asked Hunter to make him beef-flavored Top Ramen. “He was like, ‘Just do it, please.’ So I made him soup…then we started making out. He said, ‘Have you ever given head before?’ And I was like, ‘No.’ And he was like, ‘Well, do you want to?’ And I was like, ‘Not really,’ because it’s always been something I just don’t want to do. And he said, ‘Come on, you can do it. This is friendly, I’m your friend. It’s a safe place.’”

Hunter, who says she was a virgin, demurred. She decided he was pushing her too far.

A couple of days later, Hunter ran into Shaw-Fox at the cafeteria. By then, she had decided she didn’t want to keep hooking up with Shaw-Fox, since he had said he wasn’t interested in a relationship. She recalls the conversation this way: “‘I wanted to talk to you. I think we should just be friends.’… ‘Do you want to be a girl? Or do you want to be my friend?’ And I said, ‘Well, I guess I want to be your friend.’ And so he was like, ‘OK, well then, you’re not a girl to me anymore.’”

On Oct. 10, 2007, a year had passed. Hunter and Shaw-Fox no longer shared a dorm, and they saw each other on campus only occasionally.

That night, Hunter had been drinking beer in her friend’s dorm room and watching movies when she impulsively sent Shaw-Fox a text message. She wanted to know what he planned to do for fall break, which started the next day. It was out of the blue, but Hunter says her intentions were “friendly.”

The two text-messaged back and forth until midnight, when Shaw-Fox invited Hunter to his dorm.

“I whispered to Alexa, my roommate, and I was like, ‘I’m going to go over to Morgan Shaw-Fox’s,’” Hunter recalls. “As soon I got to the door, Mike, her boyfriend, was there, and he was like, ‘Don’t go, he’s an asshole.’ I was like, ‘No, it’s OK, I know he’s an asshole.’

“I was like, ‘I’ll be OK,’ and then I went over there, and it wasn’t OK.”

When she arrived, it appeared Shaw-Fox had also been drinking, she says. He was watching a DVD of the FX television series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia , with Danny DeVito.

“His roommate went to sleep, and we went into [Shaw-Fox’s] room,” Hunter recounts. (Shaw-Fox had his own bedroom in the suite he shared with a friend.) “I was wearing a tube top. He just, like, pulled it down, and I kissed him.”

He wanted her to take his clothes off, so she did, she says. She was naked, too.

“And then we were making out, and he started pushing my head down.… He wouldn’t really stop doing that,” Hunter says. “So eventually I was like, ‘All right.’ But I said to him, ‘I’m still a virgin, and I want to keep it that way.’ And he said ‘OK,’ and he was like, ‘You know, I’m not interested in any relationship.’”

Shaw-Fox’s mattress was on the floor pushed up against a wall, Hunter says. “I’m sitting up against the wall on his mattress, and he’s standing over me,” she continues. “It started happening, and then he, like, twisted his fingers around my hair and started pulling it and being just kind of violent. I started choking because he was just, like, pushing my head.… I started gagging and choking, and I couldn’t really breathe.”

She says she started pushing on Shaw-Fox’s abdomen to tell him to stop. “And he was like, ‘Yeah, that’s right, choke on it.’”

Eventually, Hunter was able to get up and put her clothes on, she says, because Shaw-Fox had to leave the room to vomit.

But Hunter blamed herself. “I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t categorize it,” she says.

One week after the alleged assault, Hunter wrote an anonymous letter to the editor of the student newspaper, The Pioneer Log , where she was on staff.

In it, she alleged a “well-known, well-respected young man” assaulted her days earlier.

She did not name Shaw-Fox. And without offering any additional evidence, she wrote “there were at least a half-dozen other female students on campus that have complained of similar behavior from this man.”

She wrote that she had naively believed Lewis&Clark was safe.

“When I first visited Lewis&Clark, I asked Campus Safety how many rapes and sexual assaults had been reported in the last year,” the letter begins. “They told me that they had none on record, and that was a statistic that I admired.”

Another portion of her letter was directed to her assaulter:

“I have been told that the other women you’ve mistreated and I are entitled to pursue your expulsion from LC,” she wrote. “You are damn lucky that, at this moment, I am not. You deserve to have your filthy, disrespectful ass kicked out of this school, you insolent son of a bitch.”

A week later, The Pioneer Log published a letter in response from the college’s coordinator for the Sexual Assault Response Network, an associate dean of students and the director of campus safety, encouraging the letter writer to file a formal complaint with the college.

Instead, she waited.

On Nov. 12, Calli Bishop, a junior studying anthropology and gender studies, was in the Womyn’s Center drinking wine with several other female students, she says.

Hunter’s anonymous letter to the editor was still a hot topic on campus, especially at the Womyn’s Center, a room in the campus center where students can seek confidential counsel from other students.

“We were talking about the letter,” Bishop says. Then someone in the room revealed she’d learned the name of the guy who had allegedly assaulted Hunter.

“We all knew him and we were livid,” Bishop says. “We felt something needed to be said.”

It was around 3 am at the time, and they decided to do something that was both thoroughly modern and rooted in a long history of radical feminist tactics. They decided to warn other women away from Shaw-Fox.

“I didn’t know if he was going to be charged,” Bishop says. “I didn’t know if the school would do anything, but I didn’t care what the law said. I knew that he had committed violent acts. If the law wasn’t going to do anything, I would. There’s a point where you have to take your lives and the lives of others into your own hands and fight for justice.”

That night, the women created the Facebook group. It named Shaw-Fox as the subject of Hunter’s letter, featured a photograph of him without a shirt (taken from his own Facebook page), and carried a message that told women to stay away from him.

Since it was created as a “secret” group on Facebook, students had to be invited to it before they could see the contents online.

What Bishop did not know when she created the secret Facebook group was that its unsubstantiated name, “Morgan Shaw-Fox is a Piece of Shit Rapist,” would pop up elsewhere on Facebook, even with the blocks in place.

Word of the group and Shaw-Fox’s name as an alleged assaulter quickly made its way around campus. Shaw-Fox found out from a friend.

When complaints poured in from students about the appropriateness of naming Shaw-Fox, Bishop deleted the group. “They were lighting a false fire,” Erin Dees, a sophomore, told The Pioneer Log . “Students who only see him in a classroom setting don’t need to know and judge his reputation.”

It was too late, though. “It definitely did a number on his reputation,” says Isaac Holeman, one of Shaw-Fox’s friends. “He definitely gets looked at differently; it’s big for him, whether it’s true or not.”

Similar concern was widespread. “I don’t think he’s a predator,” says Matt Poole, a senior who is also friends with Shaw-Fox. “I don’t think he actively seeks out victims. I think he has a problem, and he can be helped.”

On Nov. 19, Bishop created a second Facebook group called “Students who Refuse to Shut the Fuck Up About Sexual Violence,” which she described on Facebook as a “revised edition of a previous group that was created in direct response to a specific person.” It included discussion topics and a link to the original letter to the editor.

Anyone could join, and within days 259 students did.

One of them was Shaw-Fox. “I’m glad it’s a concern on this campus,” he told WW .

Days later, on Nov. 28, campus officials held a forum on the college’s assault policy. By then, some administrators, according to students, also knew the name of the letter writer’s alleged assaulter. But they did not reveal it, and they maintained that they could do nothing until someone came forward, students say.

Neither Hunter nor Shaw-Fox attended the forum, but 50 to 100 other students did, and it was heated. “We were really pissed off and wanted to do something,” says Mac Cooper, a former roommate of Shaw-Fox’s who had a falling-out with him over his treatment of women. “By the end, you could tell [administrators] were as frustrated as we were, because they knew everything and they couldn’t do anything.”

The following day, The Pioneer Log ran a story about the new Facebook group and the forum. “Students are talking…and administrators are following suit,” the story read.

Hunter was encouraged to stop blaming herself—and to come forward. “I got support from people I didn’t even know,” she says.

On Dec. 12, Shaw-Fox was on stage at an end-of-year concert on campus that included his a cappella group Momo and the Coop. Shaw-Fox and three other young men sang a song that drew a hearty applause. A portion of the lyrics runs:

I gotta sing and I dance when I glance in my pants,

And the feeling’s like a sunshiny day.

I take a look at my enormous penis,

And everything is going my way. The next day, in an interview with WW , Shaw-Fox acknowledged he was the subject of the first Facebook group.

But Shaw-Fox, who in person was both polite and charming, denied that anything he had done constituted assault.

“This is a bigger issue,” he says. “And what my friend said is he thought, too, that with some groups of people, I was sort of becoming a fall guy for a lot of, you know, female anger, which is understandable.... Not that I’d be a fall guy, but that they’d have [anger]. I think about it a lot in terms of just what it would be like to be a woman that got hit on all the time....”

“From my point of view, I see there’s points in my life where I’ve made mistakes, obviously. Looking back, especially after this has happened, a lot of friends have sat down with me and asked me really just to reflect on my actions. I can see there’s points in my life, you know, where I’ve maybe deserved some females’ being frustrated with me because I can see where there’s been times where I was maybe too aggressive in my flirtation. Instead of just sort of taking a subtle message...hitting on a woman more than I should have been and made them hold a stronger boundary with me. I can see where there’s a time where I could have made someone uncomfortable. I feel really sorry for that. I’ve learned a lot from it. But in terms of sexual assault or, you know, anything even close to that point, that doesn’t make sense.”

Shaw-Fox did not talk specifically about Hunter’s allegations in his first interview with WW . When asked for a follow-up interview, he declined. He later responded to an emailed list of questions about Hunter’s version of events by writing, “I am 100% innocent of all the charges.”

Hunter filed her formal complaint against Shaw-Fox on Dec. 13.

On Dec. 18, Hunter and Shaw-Fox went before a campus judicial board to discuss what happened Oct. 10. The hearing included Assistant Dean of Students Winston Jones, plus four campus administrators, including two men and two women.

Within 48 hours, they decided to suspend Shaw-Fox. On Jan. 4, Shaw-Fox wrote in an email to WW that he planned to appeal the board’s decision.

A federal law known as the Clery Act requires colleges, even private ones, to report all allegations of sexual assault and rape to the U.S. Department of Education and make those statistics public by keeping a crime log. Lewis&Clark’s campus crime log didn’t report the alleged assault on Hunter until Jan. 4, the day after WW asked campus security for its crime log.

Lewis&Clark officials repeatedly declined to comment on the case, which the crime log calls “pending.” Lewis&Clark spokeswoman Jodi Heintz did not respond to questions posed in emails and phone calls.

When asked for comment, Thomas Hochstettler, president of Lewis&Clark, said, “I support my staff and their dealings with the press.” He then added: “Sexual assault is a terrible, terrible thing whenever it happens, and the college in no way condones such actions on the part of anyone associated with the college, or the public in general.”

But black-and-white statements such as Hochstettler’s depend on victims who can muster the same confidence to define what happened to them—and to come forward. Hunter says her own experience falls into a gray area, although she also says the alleged assault she experienced was unwanted.

For the record, Lewis&Clark’s sexual conduct policy (which can be found at lclark.edu/~safety/sexualconductpolicy.html) defines rape at the college as “any sexual intercourse (anal, oral or vaginal), however slight, with any object, by a man or a woman, without effective consent.… Consent which is obtained through the use of fraud or force (actual or implied) whether that force be physical force, threats, intimidation, or coercion, is ineffective consent.”


The federal Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act requires all public and private colleges and universities with security departments to keep a public crime log and issue an annual report that counts all the alleged crimes that took place on or near their campuses.

In 2006, the last year for which statistics are available, there were three forcible sex offenses reported at Lewis&Clark, two at Reed, two at Portland State University and one non-forcible sex offense at the University of Portland.

The crimes listed under the Clery Act must have happened on campus, adjacent to campus, or in college-owned buildings. Crimes against students that occur in private homes or apartments do not count.

Morgan Shaw-Fox has no criminal history in Portland. Helen Hunter’s allegations were not reported to Portland police. The Boulder Police Department has issued Shaw-Fox two speeding tickets since 2003. A background check there reveals only two other traffic violations, one for failing to yield at a stop sign and the other for not using headlights.

 
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