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Assault allegation shakes birding community

Assault
Photo by fitzcrittle/Shutterstock.

Content warning: This article discusses rape and may not be suitable for all readers. 

 

An allegation of rape by a well-known male American birder has shocked the birding world and has led to his removal or resignation from prominent positions.

The revelation occurred on Monday, February 15, when Aisha White, an Atlanta birder, posted a detailed story on her blog, which she shared on Twitter, accusing Jason Ward of raping her while the two were birding together on November 27, 2020, in an Atlanta-area park. Ward was the host of the popular YouTube series “Birds of North America,” was an organizer of last year’s Black Birders Week, and just this month had been featured in a Nissan commercial.

White, a digital marketer and part-time freelance writer, wrote that she and Ward met in early October, when she joined a birding field trip he led. He soon contacted her via social media, and they started going birding together.

Eventually, the two were dating, but at the end of an all-day birding outing in late November, White alleges that Ward forced himself on her against her will. A day or two after the incident, she ended their relationship.

White’s blog post didn’t name Ward, but she wrote that her attacker was “an authority in areas of diversity and inclusion,” and that he hosted a birding show that “takes him to locations around the country.” Birders on Twitter quickly deduced that Ward was the man in question, and White later confirmed that by naming him in a tweet.

White declined to comment for this article. Ward has not responded to a request for comment.

On Tuesday of this week, White established a GoFundMe page to seek funds for a possible legal case against Ward. More than $32,600 has been donated so far. 

A swift deplatforming

On Tuesday, Ward resigned from his role as chief diversity officer at American Bird Conservancy, a job he started in November. The National Audubon Society, Ward’s previous employer, posted a statement that reads in part: “During his tenure at Audubon, which ended in January 2020, we had no information of any inappropriate—much less criminal—conduct or we would have taken action right away. Based on the blog post, we have ended our relationship with him immediately and permanently.”

Nissan removed the commercial that featured Ward, the production company Topic Studios removed “Birds of North America” from all of its platforms, and the American Birding Association took episodes of its podcast offline that featured Ward as a guest. Georgia Audubon, which Ward was leading the field trip for on the day he and White met, ended its contract with him for leading field trips and later said that it was “pausing all volunteer- and contractor-led activities, including field trips so that we may conduct a thorough evaluation of our procedures and protocols.” And BlackAFinSTEM, the group that organized Black Birders Week, removed Ward from the organization.

In addition, several birders, birding clubs, and organizations posted statements supporting White. 

The original version of this article included other allegations. BirdWatching has removed them from this story.

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and BirdWatchingDaily.com. You can reach him at [email protected].

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