If you've surfed around Facebook recently, you may have spotted an ad picturing Jordan Johnson, the former Grizzlies quarterback who's been accused of rape. If you clicked that ad, you found yourself on the website of an organization called Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, or SAVE. The organization, based in Rockville, Md., recently sent a letter to UM President Royce Engstrom requesting, among other things, that the school stop requiring students to watch videos intended to help curtail sexual violence. SAVE contends the videos promote false statistics and inflammatory claims, undermining the presumption of innocence and trivializing rape.
Johnson has become one of SAVE's poster boys as the three-year-old organization fights what it perceives to be a trend of false allegations of sexual assault on college campuses, especially false allegations against athletes. Johnson's story was used, for example, in a recent SAVE fundraising appeal: "If you contribute $100 or more, we will send you a False Allegation T-shirt." The group is also launching a month-long campaign, including more Facebook ads, "designed to expose the ideological agenda" behind the U.S. Department of Education's 2011 sexual assault directive, which set guidelines for how colleges should respond to allegations of sexual assault. SAVE believes that policy ignores fundamental civil rights.
"Victims are ill-served by false allegations," says SAVE President Everett Bartlett, "and so we need to go back to long-regarded tenets of criminal law, and those tenets include innocent until proven guilty...and due process protections." He adds: "Think of the next real victim who comes along at that university. Do you think she's going to feel more likely or less likely to report the crime knowing that there's a growing level of skepticism?"
Bartlett says the group has "not looked at the specifics" of the Johnson case, though he's quick to list reasons why Johnson might be innocent, including the defense's claim that the alleged victim told Johnson on the night of the incident, "Jordy, I would do you anytime." And there's this: Bartlett admits SAVE is partly funded by those accused of sexual assault, though he insists the group has had no contact with Johnson or his attorneys, and that Johnson's family hasn't donated money. Which is surprising, because who wouldn't want a "False Allegation" T-shirt?