Governor Deval Patrick said Thursday that a posting to the state’s Twitter account that read “sexual assault is always avoidable” was a “dumb mistake” that does not reflect his views or those of his administration.
The post was published Wednesday night to the state website’s Twitter account, @massgov, and generated an angry backlash from some people on the social media website, with demands that the tweet be removed.
Mass.gov director Geoffrey Kula said the tweet was written by a contractor who did not follow procedures requiring posts to be reviewed in advance by a designated website employee. The contractor then independently scheduled it for publication.
(1/4) An apology from Geoff Kula, Director of http://t.co/JD4mnwFvsn:— Mass.gov (@MassGov) May 1, 2014
(2/4) I deeply regret the message sent last night regarding sexual assault and apologize to all sexual assault victims.— Mass.gov (@MassGov) May 1, 2014
(3/4) We in no way meant to suggest that victims of sexual assault are to blame for the crimes committed against them.— Mass.gov (@MassGov) May 1, 2014
(4/4) To learn more about what you can do to combat violence or if you need assistance, please see this blog: http://t.co/JHv9vZZjF7— Mass.gov (@MassGov) May 1, 2014
“The message that went out last night was a dumb mistake and does not represent the views of me or my administration,” Patrick said in a statement. The statement directed people in need of assistance to the state’s Health and Human Services website.
“Victims of sexual assault are in no way responsible for these crimes; the perpetrators are,” Patrick said.
The tweet that sparked an outcry was removed Thursday morning from @massgov’s account, which has more than 36,000 followers. Kula apologized, said the intent of the posting was not malicious, and promised it would not happen again.
“Clearly, this tweet never should have gone out,” Kula said in a telephone interview. “I feel terrible about it.”
The tweet included a link to a post on the Massachusetts Health and Human Services blog that highlighted April as national Sexual Assault Awareness Month and included a link to resources in Massachusetts for sexual assault victims.
Before scheduling tweets for publication, posts are required to be written in a Word document and reviewed by an “editorial gatekeeper,” who vets them for appropriateness, tone, voice, and other criteria, Kula said. Mass.gov uses a platform called Hootsuite to manage and publish posts to its Twitter account, Kula said.
State officials refused to name the contractor, but did not give a reason for withholding the person’s identity. Kula said the tweet’s author has been working for Mass.gov for less than three months and works out of a state office at One Ashburton Place in Boston. Kula said he did not have information immediately available about how much the contractor is paid.
“The tweet author agrees that perpetrators of sexual assault are always at fault, and it was never the author’s intent to blame victims for crimes perpetrated,” Kula wrote in a statement posted on Mass.gov’s blog.
The contractor has agreed to attend sexual assault awareness training, and authors who write content for Mass.gov have been reminded of the site’s editorial process for its Twitter account, Kula said.
An apology from Kula was also published on Mass.gov’s Twitter account in a series of four tweets that said, “We in no way meant to suggest that victims of sexual assault are to blame for the crimes committed against them.”
The apology ended by directing people needing assistance or wanting to learn about combating violence to the same Health and Human Services blog referred to in the errant tweet. That post was written by officials at the state Office of Children, Youth, and Families.
Toni Troop — spokeswoman for Jane Doe Inc., a statewide coalition of advocacy groups that raise awareness about sexual assault and domestic violence — said the tweet was “a regrettable choice of words” that does not reflect the Patrick administration’s position.
“This is about someone being misinformed and having a poor choice of words,” Troop said.
“To trace this back to one person kind of misses the point that the lack of understanding and the mythology around these issues are so deep-seated that sometimes people don’t even see what’s wrong with what they’re saying.”
Troop said she hopes the incident does not make people afraid to discuss sexual violence publicly, lest they misspeak.
“They may be afraid of not saying exactly the right words or not saying it exactly the right way, and the last thing we need is for people to be afraid to talk about these issues,” she said.
Gina Scaramella, executive director of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, said she believed the comment made in the tweet was a mistake.
“Some people feel that way, that it’s the responsibility of individuals to protect themselves, rather than the responsibility of people who are offending to not offend, but I didn’t believe that was the view held by the administration,” she said. “That’s not the message that I believe the state would have intentionally put out.”