As you’ve probably heard by now, there have been some discrepancies found in that now infamous Rolling Stone “UVA rape article” published almost a month ago. If you stopped paying attention to the story at that point, you may have missed the initial statement from Rolling Stone that directly blames the survivor at the center of the piece, by calling their trust in her “misplaced.” Then, after being called out for victim blaming in their first apology, the magazine eventually revised the statement to say; “these mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie.”
You may also remember that a few days before all of this happened I wrote a piece in which I gave thanks for articles like the one in Rolling Stone and its positive effects on rape awareness and prevention. I also spoke of how “mind-blowing” it was to see the response at UVA where an entire fraternity system was suspended and the house where the alleged rape took place was being “forced to contend with the type of public shaming usually reserved for a survivor brave enough to accuse someone powerful or famous.” All of which led me to declare that “for the first time in 20 years of this work I’m starting to feel the tide shifting and it has me felling very hopeful for the future.” So after all that we’ve learned in the past week am I still thankful for the Rolling Stone article and continuing to feel hopeful for the future of rape prevention efforts in this country? The short answer is… for the most part, yes on both accounts and I think anyone else who does this work has the right to feel the same.
To be clear, I’m not putting blinders on and ignoring the reality of the situation. Yes, this is a pretty big setback for rape prevention work. We’re going to have to spend a lot of time over the next few months (likely years) explaining to people that inconsistencies in a survivor’s story are common because of trauma. We’ll also have to remind people just how infrequent false reporting is while pointing out that this isn’t a case of a false report, but rather a case of a magazine not doing its due diligence before reporting such a dramatic story (by the way, I’m no journalist but it seems pretty clear that much more could have been done by Rolling Stone to prevent this shit show and all blame for it should rest squarely on them). We may never know the details of that night, but we know that everyone who’s met or knows Jackie believes something terrible happened that night. We also know that UVA, like so many other universities, responded poorly, just as they had hundreds of times before.
The reality is, those who want to doubt rape survivors will do so regardless of this debacle. Rolling Stone simply added to their paranoid fantasies. Sure, it’s sad that a fraternity (or any other organization) that may not be guilty of harboring rapists is potentially being incorrectly accused of doing so (meanwhile people are pointing out the flaws in the UVA fraternity’s denial). Still, I remain heartened that students finally gave a survivor the benefit of doubt and took some very public action (no, I don’t condone vandalism but I do condone protests and other vocal efforts to say enough is enough). Besides, from what many students at UVA are saying, discrepancies or not, Jackie’s story rang true for them.
In the end, the fact that so many across the country said it’s not just happening at UVA, but at my university too, should be indictment enough of this entire country’s rape problem… Such responses should serve as a reminder of what my colleagues and I have said for decades; rape is a serious problem on college campuses (among other places) and it’s well past time to act. To those actively trying to prevent rape, I have this to say; let others continue to debate the article and its flaws, meanwhile let’s redouble our efforts and make sure one magazine’s fuck up doesn’t derail our progress.
There’s still a massive hill for us to climb, so let’s ignore the noise and get back to climbing it.