What started out as a Santa Clara fraternity's effort to decorate its lawn for Halloween escalated into a controversy over sex trafficking after the members left a wooden cage with hanging chains, a stripper pole and derogatory slurs toward women outside the house.
The prop outside the Sigma Pi fraternity house, which had the words "BAD B------- ONLY'' painted in red on the black structure, offended at least two women who shared their outrage on a blog and was denounced by school officials as "counter to everything Santa Clara University stands for."
While the cage has since been taken down at the off-campus fraternity house, the memory is still causing some negative lingering feelings on both sides of the debate. The fraternity president said the backlash "tarnished" the reputation of his collegial brothers who don't want to be labeled as sexist. Critics say the controversy deserves more discussion.
"A couple weeks after Halloween, I was like this is too long for it to be still up," said Santa Clara University Sonia Ibrahimkhail. "That's a whole other discussion what's appropriate during Halloween and what's not. But taken out of that context, it was even more horrific and really offensive."
Ibrahimkhail asked the people who live at the home, members of the fraternity, to take it down. When they refused, she told her friend, Symone Jackson, who was equally offended.
Jackson saw the cage as a symbol of human sex trafficking.
"That's what happens when women are kidnapped and forced to be prostitutes and they're not allowed to escape," Jackson said. "They are held in cages that look exactly like that."
Jackson strongly expressed herself in a blog she posted online called My Problem With Society. She posted the picture of the cage, publicly criticizing members of Sigma Pi.
The fraternity destroyed the cage after they saw the blog post. Sigma Pi President Pete O'Brien told NBC Bay Area that the cage was a Halloween prop.
"Her connecting sex trafficking with that Halloween prop was a stretch," he said. "There are a lot of people who are associated with our fraternity. And a lot of people's reputation were tarnished when she made that accusation."
The fraternity also has apologized for painting offensive words on the cage.
"We're not going to defend the vulgarity of that. But it was destroyed immediately also," O'Brien said. "And I do apologize if that statement offended anybody. It was reckless and silly."
Jackson has accepted the apology, but said there needs to be a bigger conversation going forward.
"I think there are a lot of discussions that need to take place at this university and I hope that this will lead to those discussions," she said.
The university has responded to the off-campus incident with a statement calling the prop "counter to everything Santa Clara University stands for."
"All students of the Santa Clara University community are called upon to promote actions and behaviors that are consistent with the values of Santa Clara University. The cage came to the attention of the University this week and is totally counter to everything Santa Clara University stands for," the statement reads. "Students living on and off campus are expected to conduct themselves in a manner that is consistent with the goals of our institution. A student who is found responsible for violating the Student Conduct Code is subject to disciplinary actions."
NBC Bay Area's Lisa Fernandez contributed to this report.