Advertisements warning of a so-called “rape problem” at Florida State University are popping up online when prospective students search for information about the school. The group behind the campaign says the goal is pressuring colleges to adopt White House rape prevention guidelines.
Since late April, the ads have appeared on Facebook and other websites. In the background is a young woman reading a letter on FSU letterhead. The words in the foreground read, “Accepted to Florida State University? You should know about its rape problem.”
Karin Roland, organizing director at the national women’s rights group UltraViolet, says, “We want to make sure that anyone who is deciding whether FSU is the right school for them right now knows what’s going on on the campus with sexual assaults.”
The group’s also using the advertising strategy to target students at seven other universities, including UC-Berkeley, Harvard and American.
"We’re reaching an audience who’s interested in this issue," Roland says. "People who are seeing our ads are extraordinarily likely to click through to the ad and get the information that we’re trying to share.”
Clicking the ads takes people to the UltraViolet website, where there’s a petition urging the federal government to enforce campus sexual assault rules, she says. And the feds are already doing so, with active investigations at 55 schools, including Florida State. A recent New York Times article shined a national spotlight on FSU’s handling of rape allegations against Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston.
Roland concedes an investigation doesn’t equal wrongdoing, but she says she hopes the online ads remind people of the high-profile case.
“And we also want to make sure that the administration and the decision-makers see these ads as well because they need to know that their failure to handle sexual assault on their campus is going to impact admissions," she says.
An FSU spokeswoman declined to comment for this story, citing the ongoing federal inquiry and threatened lawsuit by Winston’s accuser. In response to the sexual assault-prevention recommendations the White House published last week, the school did issue a statement saying it complies with one of the guidelines: providing victims a confidential advocate. The statement reads, in part, “While the recommendations mirror our policies, we welcome the opportunity to enhance support for, and services to, our students.”
Roland says at other schools, the campaign has incited change.
"Brandeis, for example, has responded specifically to our ad campaign by releasing updated policies and procedures around sexual assault," she says.
The recommended policies include bystander-intervention programs and male-focused assault-prevention education.
The FSU ads are running for another couple of weeks.