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Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone Isn't Really Helping Rape Victims

If you’re not a regular reader of Rolling Stone (RS) or aren’t particularly culturally-adept, then you probably haven’t heard much about the controversy RS and one of it’s contributing editors/writers, Sabrina Rubin Ederly, have found themselves in these last few weeks. 

Ederly penned an article which RS published as a featured story in their December edition, as well as on their website. The article focuses on the story of Jackie, a name first believed to be a pseudonym, and her harrowing account of attending a date event at a fraternity house on the campus of the University of Virginia. Jackie claims that she was forcibly taken into a room by 7 fraternity pledges where she was then gang raped. In the weeks since the article was published, a controversy has erupted around the truthfulness of Jackie’s allegations. As a result, I wanted to take a moment and speak to the controversy and it’s implications with regards to victims of rape. 

Jackie’s story, as I’ve referenced, has created quite a controversy because in the last couple weeks her story has begun to unravel. The fraternity in question has vehemently denied the allegations, and has supposedly been working with local authorities to conduct an investigation into Jackie’s claims. What they’ve found was that there was no event held at the fraternity’s house, nor by the fraternity, on the night Jackie claims she was raped. Furthermore, Jackie identified one of her attackers to friends, and noted that he worked with her on campus as a lifeguard at the pool. The significance of this claim is that the man she identified is not a member of, nor a pledge, at the fraternity where the alleged rape took place. The Washington Post contacted the man identified by Jackie, and he acknowledged that he essentially knew of her, but didn’t know her. He also stated he’d never taken her on a date before, and wasn’t a member of the fraternity, as already stated. This is a detail that even the university has corroborated per it’s own records. Furthermore, according to the Washington Post, who has spoken with Jackie, some of her friends who are sex-assault awareness advocates have stated that while they believe something traumatic has happened to Jackie, they have now come to doubt her story. Some friends have also claimed that the details of Jackie’s story have also changed as well. Jackie claims the attack was part of the frat’s pledge/initiation process, a claim the fraternity has denied. Alex Pinkleton, a friend of Jackie’s who has herself survived a rape, states that she’s spoken with Jackie several times and now feels misled by Jackie. Additionally, the Washington Post spoke with one of the students whom Jackie contacted in the wake of her alleged assault and his claims contradict the claims made by Ederly and RS. This student, “Andy,” stated that Ederly’s claims that Jackie identified the specific frat house to her friends and that they found her bloodied, was inaccurate. Ederly also wrote that “Andy” and a few other friends advised Jackie not to report it, a claim “Andy’ also said was untrue, and that Jackie instead decided not to report it and simply returned to her dorm. 

We’ve also learned that Ederly and RS failed to contact the fraternity or the man Jackie identified as one of her attackers. Nor did they apparently contact any of Jackie’s friends who met her that evening after her attack. In fact, Jackie herself even claimed to the Washington Post that while RS accurately reported the details of her attack, other details may not be accurate. She also stated that she felt manipulated by the RS interviewer in such a way that she didn’t feel as though she had control over her own story. This is all a crucial misstep by both Ederly and RS. In the days since most of these revelations have come to light, RS has even gone so far as to issue an apology to readers on their website. 

“In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced,” said Rolling Stone managing editor, Will Dana. 

Rolling Stone has, apparently, since quietly deleted the part about misplaced trust. Ederly is not commenting on the story. Jackie stands behind her story, despite all it’s holes. It also turns out that Jackie is her real name, it’s not a pseudonym at all. So, at least we know that part is correct, which is good. Ultimately the reason Ederly wrote the article was because she wanted to amp up the spotlight on sexual assault on college campuses. It wasn’t even a story she wanted to specifically report because she sympathized with Jackie. Ederly sought out a story that would fit the nature of her article, and she found it in Jackie. Which, to me, at least, only adds to the murkiness of the story. The truth is, in this matter, Rolling Stone and Ederly are guilty of some really shoddy journalism.

So why is this significant? It’s significant because of the potential ramifications it has for other victims of rape.

Let’s be clear: Rape is one of the most reprehensible, vile crimes known to man. It is perpetrated by seriously depraved individuals who have no regard for human life and dignity. I cannot speak against this particular crime enough. It’s a particular sin that I have an intense amount of hatred for. Statistically speaking, the vast majority of rapes are committed against women. I have a wife. I have a daughter. I am well-aware of the commandant that thou shalt not murder, but if either of these ladies whom I love dearly were ever to be attacked in such a way, I would personally have an issue not breaking such a commandment should I ever come into contact with the attacker. It seems a cliché thing for a husband or father to say, but that’s the reality of how I feel about rape. I have a feeling that I’m not the only husband or father who feels this way. 

However, the problem is that if Jackie is falsifying any part of her story, it has profound impact on other victims of rape, past, present, and future. According to 2008 to 2012 statistics from the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey and the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) as well as 2013 criminal victimization rates, it is estimated that somewhere between 35%-40% of rapes are reported to police. That means as many as 60% of rapes are reported to the police. Clearly, rapes are woefully underreported. Now you could easily chalk this up to several factors, such as, but not limited to– the fear of reprisals by the attackers if reported; feeling shameful about the attack; and, the worst of all… the fear of no one believing their story. 

But, why wouldn’t anyone believe their story? Because there are far too many stories like the story of the 2006 Duke Lacrosse team where 3 players were accused or raping a stripper. It turned out that the stripper had made false claims before, and her story had more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese. And, as Jackie’s story begins to unravel in front of our eyes, it does serious damage to people who are actually victims of this vile, heinous crime. 

This is why the truth matters. And why telling the truth matters significantly. Because the reality of our broken world is that every day, somewhere, multiple women are raped. And it’s unbelievably evil. And the victims deserve to be heard, and taken seriously. Now, certainly one of the reasons that some rape victims are not believed when they allege they were raped is because people are just callous human beings sometimes. Other times, it’s because of cases like this one and the ones I’ve mentioned above where the allegations just aren’t holding up under scrutiny. In some cases we’ve come to learn that someone just wants to hurt another person so they allege rape. It’s a hard label to get out from under once it settles in alongside someone’s name. And, cases where rape is alleged and it turns out to be completely fabricated really anger me. Why? Because as I’ve already stated multiple times now: Rape is a horrible, reprehensible crime against human life and dignity. And, again, those who are victims of rape deserve to be heard, taken seriously, and their attackers brought to justice. Making false accusations hurts their case, and that’s infuriating. 

Is Jackie telling the truth? I don’t know, but the discrepancies that have come to light are hard to ignore. They’re not even new; we’ve seen this before in other cases. And, in a lot of them, it didn’t go well for the accuser when the facts actually came to light. Such as with the Duke Lacrosse case of 2006. 

The three men the victim in that case accused were all cleared of all the charges. One of the accused even had an air-tight alibi for his whereabouts on the night and time of the attack. Can we trust Jackie? Hard to say, but at this point it goes without saying that the police and university need to continue to investigate her claims. Her own friends claim to believe something happened to Jackie, just not what she’s alleging. If that’s true, then maybe there is still a case there to prosecute and someone is guilty of committing a crime against Jackie. All I know is that I grieve the reality that rape is even a “thing” we have to worry about at all, and it infuriates me that one of the reason why victims choose not to report their case and why some people choose not to believe a victim’s claims is because we’ve had a few cases too many where people make a false accusation that they were raped. If you are murdered, it’s really hard to make the claim to anyone that you were murdered. You lose that ability, you know? Rape victims are left with the scars of their experiences for the remainder of their lives, and for some it’s pretty crippling. Every claim of rape should be taken seriously, and investigated with the same amount of seriousness. Victims need and deserve that respect from us all, which is why it breaks my heart that anyone would ever hurt the cause of victims by claiming something happened… when it didn’t. Again, I don’t know if Jackie is being truthful, I don’t know Jackie. But, I really hope she is, for her sake and for the sake of all the other victims of rape. The reality that by publishing this story and the controversy that has erupted out of it, Rolling Stone isn't helping victims of sexual assaults. If Jackie's story ends up 100% legit, they aren't even helping her out because of the controversy that's birthed out of their negligent reporting practices in this case. 

There is too much on the line for this nonsense. Even though false claims are actually pretty low in occurrence, the problem is their shadows loom large and feed a pervasive and devestating myth. Again, there’s too much on the line for victims. Lord, come soon. 

Related Sources:

Original Rolling Stone article w/ editor’s note

Analysis of Rollling Stone reaction

Key elements in doubt