The UVA Rolling Stone article disaster

If you have been on the internet in the last couple weeks, you’ve surely heard about this article in Rolling Stone magazine, and the apology letter that followed (and was edited). As numerous people have pointed out, this sort of situation is bad for everyone involved. It invalidates the victim, it lends credence to the “false accusations of rape are common” crowd, it casts a bad light on journalism, and it leaves the reader unsure of what happened. As there always is when this sort of things happens, there are currently two issues at hand – journalistic integrity and the accuracy of Jackie’s account – and they’re being conflated in pretty much every account. Why is this a problem? I would argue that the only reason that Rolling Stone‘s article is being called into question is because they wrote on a difficult and sensitive topic with sympathy for the victim.

There are articles in newspapers and magazines daily that report on crimes without ever making an attempt to contact the accused. As one article (whose link I can’t find anymore) pointed out, if the’s a robbery, no one assumes the robbery didn’t occur if a paper doesn’t contact the alleged robber. I think the issue here is that since rape is a crime committed by people known to the victim, people hold it to a higher level of scrutiny. The approach to rape cases is markedly different than to other crimes. With most crimes, there’s not doubt that a crime occurred, just a question of whether it was the accused who committed it. With rape cases, though, people take the fact that the accuser knows the perpetrator to mean that this is a he-said-she-said issue, that if the accused denies committing a crime, the crime never happened. It is not assumed that the crime was committed by another or that the crime was committed by the accused but s/he is (as most people would) denying it. How does this tie into Jackie’s case? That some facts are unclear does not necessarily mean that Jackie was not violently raped, but only that – as in any criminal case – there is conflicting testimony.

Lastly, looking back at the article I wrote last week, I would like to point out that the accusers in these articles never provide comment, maybe because they were never asked (I would expect that women who had reported their rapes would want to comment if asked by a journalist seeking to invalidate their rape claims. That may not be the case, but it is not clear in the article that they were asked at all.).

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2 thoughts on “The UVA Rolling Stone article disaster

  1. I was hoping that someone would write about this, because I wanted to but wasn’t sure how to. It’s interesting to compare rape to other crimes, because it is handled much differently. I think the main difference lies in proof… rape is rarely able to be proved, and it seems as though as a society, we have let be the determining factor that evidences crime, rather than someone’s word.

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    • It’s a really tough topic to write about. There’s a sort of cognitive dissonance that comes when you want to believe rape victims but have also grown up as an American that I think trips up a lot of people. We’re taught in school and on TV for years that people are innocent until proven guilty, that the burden of proof is on the prosecution. There’s this subtle feeling that if the accused isn’t found guilty of rape, a crime didn’t occur, because that’s unfortunately how people are conditioned. And I think for many people, that’s part of their inability to really sympathize.

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