Xavier professor harassed in Stanford rape case

Posted at 11:58 AM, Jun 08, 2016

CINCINNATI -- When Leslie Rasmussen posted a letter online defending convicted Stanford rapist Brock Turner, many Internet denizens all over the world knew one thing right away: they had to let Leslie Rasmussen know what they thought of her.

After a quick Google search, many were able to do just that, and the Twitter account @Leslie_Ras became a dartboard for outraged reactions to the letter.

There was just one problem.

@Leslie_Ras wasn't the right Leslie Rasmussen.

The Leslie Rasmussen who wrote the letter defending Turner is the 20-year-old drummer of indie pop band Good English. In her letter, she called for a lenient sentence for the swimmer — who was caught in the process of assaulting a woman — on the basis that "[t]his is completely different from a woman getting kidnapped and raped as she is walking to her car in a parking lot. That is a rapist. These are not rapists."

She even included a smiling high school photo of Turner, a convicted sex offender found guilty of penetrating an unconscious victim with a foreign object, and emphasized that "he was always the sweetest to everyone."

On the other hand, the Leslie Rasmussen who has been pulled into the line of fire over the former's comments is a professor of public relations and advertising at Xavier University -- and the most controversial statement we found on her Twitter is a declaration of support for the Oxford comma.

Ironically, this Leslie Rasmussen also teaches courses on online harassment.

"There needs to be public conversation about this," she said of the "vile, disgusting" messages she received, "and how it's wrong and how, collectively as a society, we need to be better people."

Despite her total lack of involvement in the Turner case, she's received dozens of graphic threats and condemnations from strangers online since the other Rasmussen's letter went public.

"Some include a warning to not birth female children," Rasmussen wrote Tuesday in a public Facebook post. "Some asking if I 'did' Brock Turner. Others asking me if I enjoy rape. All of these messages have one thing in common -- they're sent from accounts with no pictures, names or locations."

Name mix-ups like this aren't uncommon — remember when thousands of buzzing Beyonce fans descended on celebrity chef Rachael Ray when they meant to go after Jay-Z's alleged mistress Rachel Roy? — but the fallout for unlucky victims can be intense.

Last month, Slate reported an incident in which the professional networking site LinkedIn mistook a Jewish middle-school teacher named William Johnson for a white supremacist also named William Johnson. The former's contacts were understandably surprised when they received an automatic news update claiming that he'd been selected as a delegate for the Trump campaign.

"On the morning of May 12, LinkedIn, the networking site devoted to making professionals 'more productive and successful,' emailed scores of my contacts and told them I’m a professional racist," Johnson wrote. It took a week for the site to correct its mistake.

Rasmussen said she initially feared for her safety when the messages began pouring in, but things are starting to calm down for her. She has not attended her office hours since she was misidentified as the other Rasmussen, and she said she will continue to work from home for a few days.

Like many of the people sending her caustic messages, Rasmussen believes that Turner is a criminal and that his brief six-month sentence represents a failure of the American justice system.

"I think it sends a horrifying message to women across America and the world, really," she said. "This is it? People who protest or smoke marijuana are in jail for longer, and this kid, you know, raped an unconscious woman. That's not my opinion. That has been decided by a jury."

However, she said she was disturbed by the other Leslie Rasmussen's message not only because it defended Turner, but also because it appeared to have been written by an author with a dangerously incomplete understanding of sexual assault.

She said it would be more helpful for online commentators to educate the musician Leslie Rasmussen than to flood her social accounts with hate mail.

"Even if I was the correct Leslie Rasmussen, maybe educate her on what rape is as opposed to harass, threaten and turn her down," she said.