Two weeks ago, Rolling Stone published a column titled “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA.” Virginia–as well as the rest of the country, and, arguably, much of the Western Hemisphere–was stunned. The article, written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, chronicles the alleged brutal and violent gang rape of “Jackie,” a then 18-year-old freshman whose real identity is never revealed.
The story was set in a fraternity house. After having been invited to a Phi Kappa Psi date party by a guy referred to as “Drew,” a junior with whom the victim worked, Jackie found herself at the fraternity house on the night of September 28, 2012. Both Jackie’s sober state and demure attire are harped upon by Ederly. She was “sober but giddy,” and was proud of the “high neckline” her “tasteful” dress bore. She was covered up, she was aware, and she was in control. But the night, reportedly, went on as follows:
“Want to go upstairs, where it’s quieter?” Drew shouted into her ear, and Jackie’s heart quickened. She took his hand as he threaded them out of the crowded room and up a staircase.
Jackie was then raped. Repeatedly. By seven different men, Rolling Stone reported.
Now, climbing the frat-house stairs with Drew, Jackie felt excited. Drew ushered Jackie into a bedroom, shutting the door behind them. The room was pitch-black inside. Jackie blindly turned toward Drew, uttering his name. At that same moment, she says, she detected movement in the room–and felt someone bump into her. Jackie began to scream.
What allegedly happened next reads as the most soul-crushing, violating, sexual attack on a woman in the United States’ recent history.
“Shut up,” she heard a man’s voice say as a body barreled into her, tripping her backward and sending them both crashing through a low glass table. There was a heavy person on top of her, spreading open her thighs, and another person kneeling on her hair, hands pinning down her arms, sharp shards digging into her back, and excited male voices rising all around her. When yet another hand clamped over her mouth, Jackie bit it, and the hand became a fist that punched her in the face. The men surrounding her began to laugh. For a hopeful moment Jackie wondered if this wasn’t some collegiate prank. Perhaps at any second someone would flick on the lights and they’d return to the party.
But Jackie didn’t return to the party. Instead, according to Erdely, Jackie was physically assaulted and brutally raped by seven different men for the next three hours.
She remembers every moment of the next three hours of agony, during which, she says, seven men took turns raping her, while two more–her date, Drew, and another man–gave instruction and encouragement. She remembers how the spectators swigged beers, and how they called each other nicknames like Armpit and Blanket. She remembers the men’s heft and their sour reek of alcohol mixed with the pungency of marijuana.
As the last man sank onto her, Jackie was startled to recognize him: He attended her tiny anthropology discussion group. He looked like he was going to cry or puke as he told the crowd he couldn’t get it up. “Pussy!” the other men jeered. “What, she’s not hot enough for you?” Then they egged him on: “Don’t you want to be a brother?” “We all had to do it, so you do, too.” Someone handed her classmate a beer bottle.
Shortly after being assaulted with the foreign object, she reportedly passed out and came to at around 3 a.m. She was alone, and the room was otherwise empty. And, so, as told by Erdely, Jackie gathered her belongings, exited the room into a house full of coeds–none of whom noticed the “disheveled girl hurrying down a side staircase, face beaten, dress spattered with blood”–and called her friends to come get her.
When her three friends arrived (all of their names were changed and none of them were interviewed) each of them declined to get Jackie help. Three college freshman (one woman and two men) at one of the nation’s best universities, and not one sought her medical or legal help. Not one. “Her reputation will be shot for the next four years,” said one supposed ally. “She’s gonna be the girl who cried ‘rape,’ and we’ll never be allowed into any frat party again,” said another. And, so, supposedly bruised and beaten, and having confided to her friends what had just happened, Jackie went home to her dorm room alone. Months later, she reported the incident to UVA. No charges were ever filed.
Jackie, now a junior (or a “third year” as it is referred to at Mr. Jefferson’s university) speculated to Ederly that while national statistics claim one out of every five college-aged women is sexually assaulted, she believes that at UVA, it is more like one out of every three women. Some girls, she claimed, even referred to the university as “UV-Rape.” Again, the country (and world, arguably) was shocked.
Then we asked questions.
While many of us in the Greek community view the media as anti-fraternity and sorority, it was actually some of the most reputable news outlets in the world that first began to question the validity of the Ederly’s reporting, as well as (shockingly) the victim’s account in general. It was not a “frat blog” that first raised an eyebrow but, rather, papers such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times.
For starters, there were many flaws in the reporting. Erdely–a supposed journalist–did not reach out to any of the alleged attackers. In fact, the only person she interviewed was Jackie herself–and we don’t even know Jackie’s real name. In today’s society, it has become criminal to question a self-proclaimed rape victim. It is also–and we oftentimes forget this–equally as criminal to dismiss the accused as inherently guilty. The Rolling Stone article is a perfect example of the fact that, as a country, we have failed to remember that you are innocent until proven guilty. Furthermore, it is an innate right that you not only know your accuser, but be given the chance to defend yourself.
As The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple facetiously stated:
“For the sake of Rolling Stone’s reputation, Sabrina Rubin Erdely had better be the country’s greatest judge of character.”
Even this, of course, hinges upon the fact that Jackie’s account as told to Erdely is 100 percent factual, in which case, Erdely herself played the role of prosecutor, judge, and jury.
The Los Angeles Times took it a step farther, with writer Jonah Goldberg saying that the entire story is completely fabricated:
“Rolling Stone has published an incredible story about a rape at the University of Virginia. The story has sent shock waves around the country.
But when I say the story is incredible, I mean that in the literal, largely abandoned sense of the word. It is not credible–I don’t believe it.”
Richard Bradley of Shots in the Dark went on to say that Jackie’s attack perfectly fit into the mold of what society has told us to be fearful of: white, powerful men who are above the law. But if the outcome of the Duke lacrosse scandal in 2006 taught us anything, it is that if it seems too good (or too bad, as the case may be) to be true, then it probably is.
“One must be most critical, in the best sense of that word, about what one is already inclined to believe.”
In this case, the Rolling Stone article played so perfectly upon every bias the media has against fraternities, and white men in general: that they are rapists, that they are above the law, that they need to be shut down, that to not question it would almost be criminal.
The tragic fact of the matter is that no one knows what happened the night of September 28, 2012. Not even, apparently, Rolling Stone. After the journalistic integrity of both Erdely and the publication in general being called into question, the magazine issued the following statement this afternoon:
To Our Readers:
Last month, Rolling Stone published a story titled “A Rape on Campus” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, which described a brutal gang rape of a woman named Jackie at a University of Virginia fraternity house; the university’s failure to respond to this alleged assault – and the school’s troubling history of indifference to many other instances of alleged sexual assaults. The story generated worldwide headlines and much soul-searching at UVA. University president Teresa Sullivan promised a full investigation and also to examine the way the school responds to sexual assault allegations.
Because of the sensitive nature of Jackie’s story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her. In the months Erdely spent reporting the story, Jackie neither said nor did anything that made Erdely, or Rolling Stone’s editors and fact-checkers, question Jackie’s credibility. Her friends and rape activists on campus strongly supported Jackie’s account. She had spoken of the assault in campus forums. We reached out to both the local branch and the national leadership of the fraternity where Jackie said she was attacked. They responded that they couldn’t confirm or deny her story but had concerns about the evidence.
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. We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.
The Washington Post, in an article published today claims that it has conducted several interviews with Jackie in the two weeks following Rolling Stone’s release of its column, and that she has “contradicted” herself. At one point, Jackie claimed that she never said “Drew,” the supposed mastermind of the gang rape, was actually in a fraternity, saying “he never said he was in Phi Psi.” Additionally, Phi Psi is said to have not even had a party on the night in question–nor do they even participate in fall recruitment–something that comes not from the fraternity itself, but from the president of the Inter-Fraternity Council. Furthermore, the fraternity checked its records and found that no member had worked at the college’s Aquatics Fitness Center (where Drew allegedly worked) at the time of Jackie’s attack.
The sad, unfortunate reality is that we will likely never know what happened that night. The story has become a complex disaster of accusations, fabrications, contradictions, and recants. Tragically, beneath all of the rubble is the truth. And (not that my opinion matters) I truly do believe that something horrible happened to Jackie. But what exactly happened to her, I don’t think will ever come to light. Was she gang-raped at a fraternity house? It’s possible. It is. But now that Rolling Stone has stated that its trust in Jackie was “misplaced,” it is hard to separate what’s real and what’s not, the truth from the lies, the fact from the fiction.
Were seven men wrongfully accused of rape? Was an entire fraternity dragged through the mud because of a misquote? Was Jackie telling the truth, but is now being painted as a liar because Rolling Stone was facing such harsh criticism?
As Emily Renda, a rape victim mentioned in the original Rolling Stone article, said to The Washington Post: “I don’t even know what I believe at this point.” Unfortunately, neither do we..
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