A woman in Arizona filed a lawsuit against the University of Central Florida’s Delta Sigma Phi fraternity as well as five of its members after she says she discovered intimate photos and videos of her had been shared in the fraternity’s secret Facebook group “Dog Pound.” According to the lawsuit, frat brothers “routinely” shared nude photos and videos of women in the Facebook page without their consent.
Kathryn Novak, a student in Arizona, is the woman who filed the lawsuit on Wednesday. The lawsuit states she was in a long-distance relationship with Brandon Simpson, a member of UCF Delta Sigma Phi, from October 2017 through February 2018. Simpson allegedly recorded one of their sexual encounters around October of last year and shared it with five of his frat brothers. According to the complaint, the video was then distributed to other members to watch during their house meeting and ultimately posted on the “Dog Pound” Facebook page. In the end, more than 200 Delta Sigma Phi members and UCF students allegedly received the video.
The complaint claims that no one told Simpson to delete the video or to stop sharing it, attributing its wide dispersal to an out-of-control “frat boy” culture. Novak also says Simpson encouraged her to send him “intimate and erotic pictures,” which she did, with the understanding that no one but Simpson would see them. Simpson allegedly shared these photos with a number of his frat brothers as well.
The “Dog Pound” Facebook group was allegedly set to “secret,” meaning users weren’t able to search for it on the platform and could only see it if existing members invited them. According to the complaint, a number of frat brothers used the page to share nude photos and videos of girlfriends as well as “unwitting female victims.” Michael Avenatti, Novak’s attorney, told CNN that there have been “a number of women victimized by this and many videos posted,” and that the Facebook page “was something bragged about.”
The fraternity—whose motto is “Better Men. Better Lives.”—issued a statement to the media on Thursday in response to the lawsuit, stating that the UCF chapter has been suspended while they investigate the claims. “While we cannot comment on specific allegations made in the lawsuit, these claims are disturbing and antithetical to our organization’s values and mission,” the fraternity said.
This would not be the first time Facebook has been used as a vehicle to exploit unsuspecting women. In March of last year, it was discovered that thousands of current and former male Marines were sharing thousands of nude photos of female Marines without their consent in a closed Facebook group called Marines United. At Penn State University in March of 2015, Kappa Delta Rho was suspended after police began investigating that some of its fraternity members were reportedly sharing photos of “nude and partly nude women, some apparently asleep or passed out” in an invitation-only Facebook group. The Facebook group also allegedly included photos of women being sexually assaulted.
Facebook updated its Community Guidelines the same month Kappa Delta Rho was suspended to officially ban “revenge porn” from the platform. Facebook also recently announced a pilot program in November which gives its users some power to take preemptive measures against the nonconsensual distribution of their photos. The program allows users to share nude or partially nude photos of themselves with the social network through a single-use, encrypted link. These photos are then hashed, and any photos that someone tries to upload that match these will be blocked from Facebook as well as Instagram and Messenger.
It’s reassuring to see the massive social network begin to understand how its platform is being abused and to start giving its most vulnerable users some tools to get ahead of the abuse. But it’s still not a sweeping solution—it wouldn’t have helped Novak, for instance, if she didn’t have access to the photos and videos that allegedly ended up on the fraternity’s secret Facebook group.
Correction: This story’s original headline stated ‘Arizona Frat Brothers’ but has been corrected to reflect that the students are from Florida. We regret the error.