The Arizona Desert Lamp

Odd Police Beat

Posted in Campus, Technology by Evan Lisull on 29 October 2008

In light of a friend’s post on the rise of cyberbullying laws, I couldn’t help but to think of a police beat story I’ve been puzzling over since yesterday:

Police responded to Pueblo de la Cienega Residence Hall after receiving a call that a man was sending a woman unwelcome sexual advances.

Police made contact with the woman, who told them that earlier that day she had received a text message that told her to check the man’s Facebook profile. When she did, she saw that he had posted a picture of her that he had Photoshopped to make her look like a vampire.

The woman was upset by the picture and sent him a text message asking him to take it down. The man replied that he would “consider taking it down if she put out.” The woman told officers that she felt very uncomfortable by the unwelcome sexual remarks.

She received nine text messages from the man, some of them containing sexual content.

The woman did not want to press charges, but told officers that she wanted him to stop contacting her and take down the picture.

Here’s the thing regarding Facebook — can she do that? More importantly, can the officers or the school do that? This seems like a thing where the woman in question would have to contact Facebook itself, and demand that they remove it as harassing material. Otherwise, you do have speech issues, which the man in question gets at:

Police called the man to discuss the issue. He told officers that he felt it was his right to post whatever pictures he wanted online. The man said that he posted the picture as an online joke between he and his friends, and he thought it was funny. He said he knew it was malicious, but the Internet was a public place where he was free to express himself.

Even assholes have a right to freedom of expression. This isn’t an obscene picture, and is clearly parody (i.e. he’s not actually implying that she is literally a fictional creature)

The man also said that he was unaware that the woman did not want him to contact her. Police warned him that any further contact would be considered harassment. The man told officers that he would not contact her, and he would take down the picture. Police checked the next day, and the picture was still online.

A Dean of Students referral was issued for a code of conduct violation for violation of the UA sexual harassment policy.

To reiterate: the man sent no messages after being informed that sending messages would be harassment. Perhaps he told the officers that the picture would be removed, but the officers did not specify that keeping the picture up would be a violation. If they justify this citation by saying that the Facebook picture is a “message,” that’s just bogus. The woman can simply de-friend or block the man in question.

Looking at the Sexual Harassment Code, we have three types of sexual harassment:

• Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment, education, or participation in a University sponsored activity; or

• Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions, education decisions, or other decisions affecting an individual’s participation in a University activity;

As far as we know, neither of these are applicable. The third, and broadest platform, reads:

• Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance, education, or participation in a University sponsored activity or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or educational environment.

This occurred through Facebook, and through her cell phone, neither of which are connected to any “educational environment”; in fact, Facebook itself is probably a net detriment on any educational environment. How does this presumed spat between two people involve the University in anyway. The school wouldn’t be involved at all if one or both of these people were not on campus — why now?

To reiterate, this guy is an asshole, and sexual harassment is a crime. I wouldn’t be at all upset if he got roughed up by some of the woman’s guy friends. However, I seriously wonder whether police should be involved, or why the university is involved at all. If anyone out there could help me out on this, I’d be most appreciative.


2 Responses

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  1. Libby said, on 4 November 2008 at 6:06 pm

    Yikes… sounds like any legal action would venture into that vast gray area called “privacy rights.”

    The woman should contact facebook and request the image be removed.

    Here’s a link of interest I recently found regarding protecting your reputation online:

  2. […] the last Facebook case discussed on this site also originated at Pueblo de la Cienega. More importantly, this is really bad advice […]

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