Hands up anybody now who’d trust Rolling Stone to tell their story?

Lindy West in The Guardian: Rolling Stone threw a rape victim to the misogynist horde

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.

Further reading:

Angus at Student Activism: Yes, Christina Hoff Sommers is a Rape Denialist

Categories: ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, media, social justice, violence

Tags: ,

4 replies

  1. denying her requests to retract her interview, despite her fear of retaliation – and had since discovered some “discrepancies” in her account
    Jackie also said she found the interviews “overwhelming” (quotes used to indicate this is the actual word I saw used), and this was one reason she wanted to retract them. Since she said that some of her recollections, including which Fraternity it took place at, weren’t recollections but things friends had pointed out to her later, I’ve wondered that was one reason she wanted the story retracted – she’d been pushed into adding more and more lurid detail, and not trusting her memory for all of them, wanted the interview canned. Fear of retaliation is certainly a valid motive, but her request could also be interpreted as deliberately *not* wanting to risk incriminating people who might be innocent. Which makes the smears of her as a liar all the more perverse.
    In any case, I still believe she was raped. And she was the first and principal person Rolling Stone failed in this debacle.

  2. Kate Harding has an excellent column this week in Dame Magazine talking about how despite platitudes decrying racism and rape, it always ends in blaming the victims and finding reasons to avoid holding the perpetrators accountable.

    As a society, we’re happy to offer our love and support to victims of power-based violence, but holding actual human perpetrators accountable is another story. We prefer our racists in white hoods and our rapists in ski masks, so we never have to confront the abusive, domineering, murderous upstanding citizens in our midst. The ones who attend our churches, teach in our schools, and ostensibly protect our communities. The ones who couldn’t possibly do something like that. The ones who do things like that, every single day.
    We cannot continue this way, insisting that violent crimes of power are misunderstandings, or hoaxes, or the inevitable consequence of a victim’s behavior. We cannot keep pretending we don’t see the patterns.

    – See more at: http://www.damemagazine.com/2014/12/09/we-always-blame-victim#sthash.9Ezo7LFI.dpuf

    • Now there’s even more doubt being cast on the allegations made by “Jackie”.
      It does seem possible that she invented some key details of her reported claims, perhaps unwittingly confabulated from distressing memories of a different traumatic event, perhaps defensively in response to the concerns of others about her withdrawal and apparent depression. Erdely’s continued pressure for more and more details may have led to Jackie realising that her narrative was inconsistent and possibly that’s why she wanted to withdraw from Erdely’s article. No matter what ends up emerging as the truth about Jackie, it was still deeply unethical for Erdely to continue to use such specific claims without establishing solid confirmation, especially when Jackie had expressed concerns about shaming and retaliation that Erdely must have know were perfectly valid when that confirmation of salient facts was absent.

  3. Every time I open up ‘Salon’, there’s ANOTHER story about how the young woman in question is a liar. Journalists pick apart the original; story, ring up some person who is allegedly a FRIEND of the poor woman, get a conflicting detail from them, MOAR PROOF! It’s disgusting.
    As a society, we are strongly committed to never punishing rape and to punishing women who speak about it.
    Thank you Rolling Stone?

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