Like most UVA students and alumni, I read Rolling Stone’s account of an alleged gang rape, a misogynistic campus culture, and a lack of justice with horror. I loved my time at UVA and still very much love the University as a whole. But the article was troubling, and for the first time, I felt ashamed of dear old UVA. Not because as an institution it stands alone in its decision to inadequately handle rape cases, but because UVA is a place that is supposed to be BETTER. We have a honor code, after all! But, I must admit, though I felt a lot of shock and horror reading this brutal account of sexual assault, I wasn’t all that surprised. Unfortunately, this account was conceivable to me, and it still is.
In the weeks that have followed this account, things have taken a turn from terrifying and sad to sceptical, sensational, and downright damaging. What was initially a step in the right direction, forcing meaningful discussion at UVA and elsewhere about campus policies concerning rape, has now turned into a battle of he-said, she-said, a smearing of credibility.
This week, after a Washington Post article set out to refute many of the claims made by “Jackie,” the victim in Rolling Stone’s story, Rolling Stone did the worst thing that they could have done: they balked. They accepted the discrepancies provided by Phi Psi as truth, they shunned their piece, and they shunned Jackie’s account as a whole. Instead of taking blame, they blamed Jackie, saying “…we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced.” And, a positive discussion about steps needed to make change across campuses regarding rape has turned into mud slinging, calls for retribution, and a backwards discussion about journalistic integrity. Worse still, Rolling Stone’s thoughtless decision to write off the story and brand Jackie as a liar in effect reverses any of the positive impact of the first story, now bringing more light onto stereotypes that rape victims are not to be trusted. Women who were once afraid to tell their stories will now be even more hesitant, lest they be branded a sham by not just their communities but by mass media and the public at large.
What’s shocking to me is how quick the community at large has been to throw stones, in many cases at the wrong individuals.
Against Jackie. A brave victim, or a woman who cried wolf (though likely, somewhere in-between – a traumatized individual). Regardless of whether or not her story was entirely accurate, the issue remains. Hers is not the only tale of campus rape that would send us into uproar. The article’s intentions were sound.
In support of Phi Psi. I would like to preface that I am absolutely pro-fraternity. I was a member of the greek system at UVA, I attended many a frat party without harm, and I would hate to see UVA or any other university lose these institutions. But, taking the word of a Phi Psi lawyer as the ultimate truth is foolish at best. And in the end, this isn’t about fraternities. It isn’t about Phi Psi. It is about the poor choices some individuals make, the crimes they commit against others, and the improper handling these victims receive. It is about the fear victims have to face, the injustice of their attackers walking free, and the sheer insanity of Universities turning a blind eye to these crimes. Is it fair that Phi Psi has been slandered, that names are circulating the internet unfairly? Of course not. Which is why the continued focus on this one fraternity and this one story must stop.
Against those who “fell for” the story. Sign into twitter or read the comments on any of these articles, and you’ll see a collection of trolls doing their “how do you feel now that you were wrong to believe a rape victim’s story?” song and dance. I myself have been receiving a handful of tweets to this effect, and I have to ask: why? Are these people so entrenched in the need for skepticism that they cannot accept that there are often grey areas in issues that matter? Are they so pro-fraternity that they cannot stand that one frat’s name has been slandered? Are their intentions so deeply misplaced that they cannot see they too are fully propagating the idea that rape victims shouldn’t be taken seriously, that they should bear the burden of proof,that women lie about being raped for attention?
For me, after reading Rolling Stone’s apology letter, the only thing that has changed is that I feel anger towards the publication. The issue still persists, the changes that will come in the article’s wake are still necessary, and I don’t doubt that something like Jackie’s story happened on grounds.
I also continue to applaud the many men and women who are using this to continue to speak openly, bravely about these issues. In the wake of both the initial article and the apology, an incredible amount of honest first-hand accounts and thoughtful opinion pieces continue to speak to what’s important here, and what can be done, rather than slinging mud.
I encourage you to read, retweet, and support these pieces, and continue the dialogue towards change.
Laci Green’s intelligent analysis on the inconsistencies presented.
Jessica Longo’s brave story and thoughtful take on the way forward.
Hannah Rosin’s piece on Slate.com — her focus on the wrongs done by Rolling Stone.
Wonkette’s snarky, in your face op-ed about how we’re focusing on all the wrong things.