This is tough. Really tough. My brain is struggling to structure the information, much less to process and analyze it. Let’s do it this way.
Here’s what we know:
Rolling Stone journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely reported that Sept. 28, 2012, a young woman named Jackie attended a party at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house on the University of Virginia campus. Erdely wrote about how Jackie was brutally gang raped by several frat brothers.
We know that since then, the pieces of the article presented as fact are now being questioned by other news organizations such as the Washington Post. The fraternity claims never to have had a party on the day of the alleged rape. Evidently, no Phi Psi man fits the description of “Drew,” Jackie’s rapist. And further, Erdely is being criticized because she did attempt to speak to “Drew.” One of the friends who ran into Jackie the night of Sept. 28 said that she was found a mile away from the frat houses, and that she was shaken but not physically injured. There are other apparent discrepancies, which you can read in the Rolling Stone apology letter.
So much credibility is being given to the agents who are pushing back on Jackie’s story–the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity especially. Critics are blaming Jackie for fudging details or making up the ordeal entirely. They are also blaming Rolling Stone for mistakes in fact-checking.
Here’s what Rolling Stone investigative reporter Matt Taibbi has to say about fact-checking at the magazine:
But in Rolling Stone‘s apology, Editor Will Dana changed the assertion that the magazine “misplaced” its trust in Jackie to: “These mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie.”
Where does this leave us? Concerning the facts of the story, I’m not sure. I’m not sure. I’m not sure. But here’s what I do know. The backlash I’ve seen against this story is the most vicious I’ve seen in journalism. Why? I assume it has everything to do with the topic.
An estimated 1,929,000 women are raped per year in the States, according to the National Intimate Partner and Violence Survey. And yet every time a woman (or man) who has been raped is brave enough to come forward, society’s first instinct is to call her a liar. The percentage of rape allegations that are false is difficult to pin down, but it’s still very small.
We see the consequences with Jackie. Everybody’s favorite Twitter psychopath Chuck C. Johnson published her last name and is calling her a flat-out liar. Now, he’s opened her up to a world of harassment.
Here’s a Twitter vignette from Ta-Nehisi Coates that makes an insightful comparison with the notion of “crying rape”:
And what’s most infuriating is that since Jackie has been so ferociously hassled and ridiculed online, other rape victims are going to stay locked in silence. They look at what happened to Jackie, and they don’t want to live through the same consequences. So instead, they’ll stay under their blankets to try and find respite from painful memories. They’ll wonder what they could have done differently to avoid being raped. They’ll blame themselves, hate themselves and sink further and further into depression.
The system is rigged. No matter what, the loser will always be the victim of rape.