Sexploit thesis on `horizontal academics' goes viral

Last Updated 08 October 2010, 10:40 IST

And while it has led to publishing offers for the student in question, she apologised Thursday for the publicity and embarrassment it caused the guys who were mentioned in the pseudo-dissertation.

The document was created by Duke University graduate Karen Owen as a joke shortly after her graduation this summer from the prestigious Duke University in North Carolina.

She initially only sent it by email to three close friends, but it soon made its way to the inboxes of the entire 14,000-member student body and eventually ended up in the hands of the popular women's blog jezebel.com, which published the 42-page "dissertation" in late September.

It soon made its way to hundreds of other websites, from The Huffington Post to ESPN.com, and was given the full outraged media treatment Thursday morning on the hit TV show Today.

Though Owen initially bragged that her work provided her with "greatstories for the grandkids", the media storm had led her to reassess the situation.

"I regret it with all my heart," she told the website. "I would never intentionally hurt the people who are mentioned."

The document was labeled a "Senior Honors Thesis" and given the title "An Education beyond the Classroom: Excelling in the Realm of Horizontal Academics".

The premise of the work was simply stated: "Senior year and college in general often bring about certain situations that result in the seeking of so-called 'sex'. Until now, no studies have succeeded in developing a methodology for quantifying and ranking
these so-called horizontal academics. In this study, we used data from four years at Duke University to create evaluation criteria for such encounters and applied these criteria to evaluated subjects."

Using bar charts and a rigorous evaluation process, Owen assessed 13 subjects, mostly student athletes. If it were fictional it might be funny, but it identified all the students in detailed photographs - and they weren't amused, especially those who received low rankings and derogatory comments about their masculinity like "it was over too quickly".

Coming just days after a Rutgers University student committed suicide, after a roommate secretly live-streamed his sexual encounter with another man, the incident is sure to sharpen the focus on the need for greater awareness of the importance of privacy on the internet.

"I talk with students all over the country, and I feel like I'm a broken record," Justin Patchin, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Centre, told AOL News.

"They think of it as some high-profile media thing that couldn't happen to them. Most of us would say, 'Come on, you should have known that this would blow up'. They just don't get it."

(Published 08 October 2010, 10:40 IST)

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