LEXINGTON, Ky. ― University of Kentucky officials claim that a student newspaper’s stories about alleged sexual harassment by a professor are to blame for a drop in sexual assault reports on campus.University officials said in court filings that the number of sexual assault reports to the university’s Violence Intervention and Prevention Center fell to 38 this fall, The Lexington Herald-Leader reported. The number was 59 between July and October 2015.
Center intervention program coordinator Ashley Rouster said that after the Kentucky Kernel published the articles, students who visited the center feared their stories could appear in the paper.
“Based on my experience in this field, I believe the Kernel’s publication of articles related to this case has caused students to be reluctant to report incidents of interpersonal violence for fear of media attention,” Rouster said in an affidavit filed in court.
However, Kentucky Kernel editor Marjorie Kirk said the stories she wrote about alleged sexual harassment had the opposite effect.
“I’ve had more people come to me to tell their stories because they’re distrustful of the university and how it handles assault,” she said.
A national expert on student journalism said the university’s effort to blame the newspaper amounts to a “shameful manipulation.”
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Washington, D.C., said it “may be a new low in terms of playing on the public’s empathy for survivors of sexual violence.”
The university is suing the newspaper in an attempt to block the release of its investigative files on associate entomology professor James Harwood, who resigned in February in the midst of a sexual harassment investigation against him.