By Sarah Burstein, Staff Writer
On Nov. 19, Rolling Stone magazine published an extensive and horrifying article entitled, “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA.” In the article, writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely tells the story of “Jackie,” who alleges she was brutally raped by a group of fraternity brothers at a party as a freshman at the University of Virginia in 2012.
The story was wildly read and publicized for a number of reasons. For one, it exposed that the University of Virginia was no stranger to covering up allegations of sexual assault, as the story also included the tales of other girls who had had similar “bad experiences” at UVA. Also, the story correlated with the recent list released by the U.S. Department of Education of “Higher Education Institutions with Open Title IX Sexual Violence Investigations,” which included UVA.
However, the story was also important because it encouraged a national conversation about sexual assault, something that has arguably been avoided for too long.
Then, last Friday, things got complicated.
Rolling Stone released a statement “apologizing,” in part, for “discrepancies in Jackie’s account.” Apparently, the magazine, acting with Jackie’s wishes in mind, did not make an attempt to any of Jackie’s alleged attackers. Along with new information discovered about the night in question, including the fraternity involved asserting that they did not hold any parties that evening, Rolling Stone took it upon themselves to “apologize to anyone who was affected by the story” and “continue to investigate the events of that evening.”
As a journalism major, it could not be clearer to me that the main problem with this whole situation is a lack of good reporting. If Rolling Stone had approached this story from a different angle that both they and Jackie would have been content with, perhaps this apology would never have been needed. Because right now, this error is doing more harm than good.
Statistically, people don’t report sexual assault. In fact, according to the article, most of the women at UVA do not end up filing legal complaints against their attackers (at the implied encouragement of the university). This article was extremely important when it was first published because it gave women the opportunity to realize that if they were sexually assaulted, they had every right to report it to law enforcement. Now people will have less incentive to while Jackie’s story is stripped of its credibility.
Furthermore, while it’s true that some of Jackie’s dates and memories do not match up to what other have said about the incident, if Rolling Stone was really worried about their journalistic errors, they would take into account that it is incredibly common for victims of trauma to mismatch details of the event in order to make sense of what they endured.
It scares me that one statement from Rolling Stone can almost completely cancel out the content of an entire article, one that so horrifyingly recounts the stories of not just Jackie, but of countless women and girls on UVA’s campuses as well as campuses across the country.
It’s times like these when we need to remember the bigger picture. It’s all too common and easy to turn around and blame Jackie for wanting attention, or money, or anything of that sort (the magazine sort of addresses this potential blame in one sentence: “These mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie”). Most likely, we will never know an exact account of what happened to Jackie her freshman year of college, but instead of turning this into a victim-blaming attack, we should allow ourselves to see the bigger picture and accept the problem of rape on campus. In light of this story, it’s more imperative than ever.