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UVA rape scandal renews need for assault support


Many of you may be familiar with a recent Rolling Stone article that described the brutal gang rape of a girl called “Jackie.” The rape occurred at a University of Virginia frat house two years ago. The long, explicit, and thought-provoking piece written by RS’s Sabrina Rubin Erdely gained national attention as evidence of American universities’ (and maybe even the general population’s) inadequate response to sexual assault allegations.

To summarize, a first-year girl (UVA-speak for “freshman”) claimed that after being invited to a date function by a third-year boy, she was led upstairs to a dark room where seven men violently raped her and two others watched, egging each other on for hours.

After she left the fraternity house and called her friends, they urged her not to report it. As she stood on a sidewalk covered in blood, she said they talked about her like she wasn’t even there: “She’s gonna be the girl who cried ‘rape,’ and we’ll never be allowed into any frat party again.”

Even when Jackie went to the administration, according to Erdely, she was “coddl[ed] into doing nothing.” Jackie did not file an official complaint, but instead became involved in a number of anti-sexual assault groups and victims’ groups on campus. Her story has inspired other girls to come to her when they themselves were assaulted.

The original article came out on Nov. 19, and last week Rolling Stone retracted part of its story. The RS managing editor, Will Dana, explained in a statement that new information has come out that shows Jackie’s story may not be entirely true.

Dana may have been referring to the frat in question, Phi Kappa Psi, and its own statement released last week that claimed several of the details of Jackie’s story were inaccurate. For example, though the girl said that one of her attackers worked as a lifeguard with her, the employee list at UVA’s Aquatic and Fitness Center for 2012 “does not list a Phi Kappa Psi as a lifeguard.” In addition, the chapter does not have any social event recorded from the weekend that Jackie was allegedly gang raped.

Such information has led to Rolling Stone’s conclusion that “our trust in [Jackie] was misplaced.” The managing editor continued, rather rudely, that they “were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault” by not reaching out to the alleged rapists to get their side of the story. RS’ word choice here makes it seem like they regret the decision to be sensitive to Jackie’s feelings by letting her dupe them in someway.

Setting aside the fact that Jackie’s assault occurred over two years ago, and that she has struggled with depression—possibly even PTSD—since the night of the gang rape (and therefore could intentionally or unintentionally have changed her story), Rolling Stone’s partial retraction has serious ramifications.

If people disregard Jackie’s story for these discrepancies, they can disregard the entire article, which focuses not only on her rape but also the assaults and rapes of many other UVA women. In addition, they will have an excuse to deny the hard facts: that men in fraternities are three times more likely to commit rape, for example, or that false rape reports (as some might now categorize Jackie’s) account for only 8 percent of rape reports at the very most.

The credibility of Jackie and the details of her story, while they look bad for Rolling Stone, should not set back the discussion on rape and sexual assault. This should not be used as an argument to question the prevalence of rape on college campuses, or anywhere in America, for that matter. RS’ new mistrust of Jackie should also not mean that we should act toward alleged assault victims the way UVA students and administration have done: by asking questions first and assuming the victim is a liar.

(photo via)

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    Mark EspositoDec 14, 2014 at 4:38 am

    If Jackie and/or the author lied about portions or all of the rape story (and there are many good reasons you’ve omitted to conclude that they did), why should we believe either of them in their descriptions of the indifference they claim they met from officials at UVA? That’s the question you’re not dealing with in your argument.

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UVA rape scandal renews need for assault support