A few weeks ago, Rolling Stone magazine published a longform reported story about rape on American college campuses, specifically the University of Virginia. One of the central accounts in the piece came from a woman called Jackie, who claimed she was raped by a group of UVA fraternity brothers in a premeditated, horrific three-hour ordeal. The piece got a lot of traction; readers were understandably appalled.
Then, last Friday, the magazine posted a foul, mealy mouthed “apology” (which has since been updated multiple times, as RS editors play whackamole with their well-deserved backlash), in which they admitted they had failed to fulfill basic journalistic standards in reporting Jackie’s story – including denying her requests to retract her interview, despite her fear of retaliation – and had since discovered some “discrepancies” in her account. Therefore, they said, their “trust in her was misplaced”.
The result was swift, frightening and predictable. Jackie became an anti-feminist rallying point – incontrovertible “proof” that women maliciously (or recreationally, even) lie about rape to ruin men’s lives, and that “rape culture” is nothing but hysterical feminist propaganda. Never mind that the “discrepancies” in Jackie’s story don’t “prove” anything at all – they could very easily be the product of trauma, or the natural elasticity of memory. Never mind that Jackie’s friends did confirm that they believe something horrible happened to her that night, even if the exact details of her experience aren’t clear. Never mind that Jackie didn’t publicly name any specific perpetrator, and that she tried to back out of the story altogether. Never mind that if you know five women, you know at least one who’s been sexually violated.
Jackie has since had her real name and photo released on Twitter, with a loose coalition of GamerGaters, 4channers, professional misogynists, and garden-variety rightwingers publicly plotting blackmail and revenge.
Following the above summary of the facts, West goes on to show how the misogynist horde’s actions reinforce the already overwhelming edifice of obstacles to rape victims reporting rape, let alone their reports being believed:
We’ve constructed seemingly infinite incentives for victims to keep silent (you drank too much, you wore too little, you’ll destroy the family, you’ll ruin the fun, your entire sexual history will be dredged and questioned and vivisected … in front of your grandma) and pretty much no compelling reasons to report, nor functional support systems in the aftermath.
Oppression nurtures repression. Victims self-censor because to speak out invites further punishment from the victimisers. Then the beneficiaries of the status quo get to minimise the oppression because complaints are too few and thus too incredible. The system is working entirely as designed.