When she reflects on the Twitter movement from last summer, Veronica said she can’t remember typing the words to her own reported experience with sexual assault. One moment she was opening up the tweet draft and the next second, her post was there for her followers to see, one of whom was Crystal.
While they didn’t personally know one another, the two women had followed each other on Twitter. After Crystal saw Veronica’s post and realized their alleged perpetrator was one and the same, she decided to reach out.
8 alleged perpetrators
were accused more than one time in tweets of the movement
As Twitter brought the two together, Veronica said she and Crystal would eventually realize that not only did they share an alleged perpetrator but also their reported experiences were similar. They said they both experienced sexual coercion.
“I remember after it [the assault] happened, I felt weird about it,” Crystal said. “I knew it wasn’t right, but I just didn’t have the words to understand what exactly had happened to me.”
Veronica said she also sent her alleged perpetrator’s name to the anonymous @ugasafespace account because she was done protecting him. Instead, she hoped to protect others by revealing his identity and sharing her reported experience.
Crystal’s message, Veronica said, validated her reported experience and laid out exactly what Veronica said she had faced during her assault, down to the temperament of their alleged perpetrator.
“She [Crystal] knew the interaction was not OK — it obviously traumatized her. She didn’t put a name to it until she saw my tweet about it,” Veronica said. “It’s validating in the most horrible way. This is what he [the alleged perpetrator] does.”
As Twitter brought together individuals who shared their reported experiences with sexual assault, harassment and misconduct, some, like Crystal and Veronica, began to realize their alleged perpetrators the same. At least eight of the alleged perpetrators named in social posts were accused two or more times by different people.
“It really opened my eyes to be like, ‘OK, this has happened to the person next to me. It could happen to you, too,’” said Shelmine Armand, a UGA class of 2021 alumna.
For some, sharing their reported experiences with assault and misconduct on Twitter was a way to find a sense of closure. Additionally, the use of social media, notably Twitter, was an indication of the eroded trust some may have with authority figures such as university officials and the police.
“I think it’s [reporting on social media] just as legitimate of a way because we have to rethink what justice looks like,” said Sachi Shastri, a UGA class of 2020 alumna, advocate for Project Safe and former president of UGA’s Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention program.
“Is justice going to be someone getting a sentencing for something they did or is justice going to look like ... prevent[ing] that from happening in the first place and trying to heal the communities that are most hurt by it?” Shastri said.
Erin said she was not aware of the resources available at UGA after her assault. Sharing her reported experience to her personal account was about gaining closure and helping others realize that they aren’t alone.
Erin did not name anyone in her post, according to The Red & Black’s records of the tweets. For her, it was about sharing her reported experience.
She was also concerned with the amount of attention the anonymous @ugasafespace account received and who was looking at it. She said it made her feel safer to only share her reported experience with her circle of followers on Twitter.
“I feel like it takes a lot to be able to tell that story because your sex life also is something very personal, especially when you’re in a position where you’ve been taken advantage of,” Erin said.
The anonymous accounts
When class of 2021 alumna Kayla Trawick and junior Erica Degue saw the anonymous account for Georgia State University, they hoped a similar account would be created for UGA. Veronica also saw the GSU account and knew it was only a matter of time before one for UGA popped up.
At least three Twitter accounts were created with similar goals of posting anonymous experiences with sexual assault and misconduct: @ugasafespace, @uga_safespace and @ugasubmissions.
The most active account was @ugasafespace, which retweeted posts from personal accounts, shared screenshots of individuals’ anonymous posts of sexual assault and misconduct as well as names and pictures of alleged perpetrators. At least one post by this account received at least 278 retweets and 236 likes.
“Having a social media page just takes away any of the uncertainties. It takes away any of that official feeling of reporting. You’re still ultimately trying to get help — it’s just a different form of help,” Shastri said.
When Crystal submitted her reported experience to the account, she was concerned about how quickly the account was publishing posts and names of alleged perpetrators, noting that there was very little time to process each post and each name. The constant updates left a bad taste in her mouth, making Crystal feel as though this was treated more like gossip than sensitive stories.
“You were holding onto some form of justice one second, and the next second it was gone,” Crystal said. “What’s next — what happens next?”
Crystal said while there was an initial swell of support for individuals who shared their reports of sexual assault, friends of the accused began to question the account and the validity of the allegations.
“Ultimately, the most frustrating thing was seeing men come in and offering their unneeded opinions about what happened in that process,” Erin said. “If you weren’t fucking there, don’t come in with your sly little comments and tell the girl what she should be feeling about something that affected her to that extent.”
Erin said survivors need to be given the benefit of the doubt, even if skeptics claim to know the alleged perpetrators.
But even with the benefit of the doubt, the account was taken down after people questioned the validity of at least one of the accusations. The account holder retracted one of the posts, saying the allegation was unsubstantiated, which created more concerns and doubts.
The Red & Black spoke to one of the alleged perpetrators named by the account. Reporters reached out multiple times to the accused who could be definitively identified on social media, and Matthew was the only person who agreed to an on-the-record interview (Editor's Note: Matthew's name has been changed in order to protect his identity).
“My first reaction to it was shock,” Matthew said. “I immediately started worrying about how my future life is going to be because now the world views me as the worst kind of person.”
Matthew, who denied the accusations made against him, said he was not on social media when the accusations were made. He said he learned about them months later. However, within that time period, Matthew said his friends from UGA had stopped talking to him.
He said the tweets gave power to assumptions.
“But I feel like as soon as someone hears that this happened to a woman, that immediate assumption is the [accused] person is wrong,” Matthew said. “And that leads to unfair criticism, especially in situations where the full story is unknown.”
Nevertheless, Matthew said he understood that women are often invalidated in an official reporting system for sharing their stories. Due to this he said Twitter was a “useful tool for women who don’t have any other options.”
Rise and fall
Students, alumni and individuals who shared their reported experiences on Twitter all had mixed feelings about the account. Caleb Saffo, a UGA class of 2016 alumnus, said he thought the person behind the account had significant influence, but he was concerned about the legal ramifications due to a lack of an elaborate verification process.
“I felt like, unfortunately, my misgivings and my fears about what could possibly escalate from that page … were justified,” Saffo said. “It just made me a little sad.”
Like Saffo, Veronica and Crystal also had mixed feelings about the account’s power and the fact that the owner was anonymous. Crystal said that it felt strange to simply follow the account as a source for identifying the accused and completely accepting the account holder’s motives.
“Maybe that’s me giving people grace that don’t deserve it, but at the same time, who really knows how to handle these situations?” Crystal said.
After watching the account get taken down, Crystal said she continued to have doubts over whether sharing her reported experience was the right thing to do. Looking back, she wonders if the account was worth it for her and those who also shared their reported experiences.
She said while it did help her process what happened to her, the accused and the institutions they are members of are still standing without acknowledgement of the reports. There were also individuals who she said were invalidated and criticized for sharing their experiences with assault and misconduct.
“It ended up hurting the victims more than it did helping,” Crystal said about the individuals who faced backlash.
Regarding the anonymous account owner, Veronica said it is hard to trust someone whose face you don’t know. She also speculated if some people had tried to sabotage the account by sending in accusations they knew to be false. At the same time, she said that the account’s overall effect was “amazing.”
“To take the pressure off someone so that it’s like, ‘You don’t have to say this is you, but you can say what happened to you’ — that’s amazing,” Veronica said. “We can have conversations about this person [the account holder], their lack of knowledge and their naiveté, but we cannot negate the power that they gave to so many people that day.”
She said the movement allowed for Black students at UGA to discuss assault and the power dynamics between men and women, as well as victimization and ostracization of survivors. Like Crystal, Veronica was also conflicted about the hole the account left after being deleted so abruptly.
“Unfortunately, I feel that the conversation also disappeared. That conversation, which was essential to any kind of change within our community, dried up in an instant,” Veronica said. “More than I mourn that page being gone, I mourn the loss of that community conversation that was so needed and would have been so healing had we reached some kind of conclusion.”
Jacqueline GaNun contributed to fact-checking this series.