On Monday, Charlottesville police in Virginia declared there to be no evidence of a 2012 rape that supposedly occurred at a fraternity house at the University of Virginia, according to an erroneous Rolling Stone article published this past fall. The police department conducted a thorough investigation of the Phi Kappa Psi house at the university, as well as conducting numerous interviews of friends, party goers, and fraternity members present at the 2012 party where a woman identified as “Jackie” was allegedly raped.
Unfortunately, after the magazine published the scathing article, inconsistencies began to appear in Jackie’s account. The police did add that the case would be reopened immediately if evidence of the gang rape at the frat house did indeed happen.
The Rolling Stone article was one giant step backward from both a journalistic perspective and from the perspective of sexual assault victims those who counsel the survivors. In the simplest terms, Rolling Stone screwed up big time with this story, even more so than when they released the July 2013 issue of the magazine with Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s face emblazoned on the cover like some sort of hero. However, the UVA account is not just controversial. It’s unacceptable.
For a journalist and a major magazine to publish an article that tarnishes the reputation of the Phi Kappa Psi house, as well as the University of Virginia, without any confirmation of the facts presented by the writer is irresponsible and is assault in a journalistic sense. Jackie’s tell-all in Rolling Stone is reminiscent of the three Duke lacrosse players accused of rape in 2006. While there was no prosecution or possibility of a hate crime, the false accusation against the three men received significant media coverage just as Jackie’s story received. The article prompted serious backlash against collegiate Greek culture, fueling the douchebag stereotype that surrounds fraternity members across the country.
When the account was proven to be fabricated, advocates to prevent sexual assault felt the backlash that would come with a false accusation like in 2006. Jackie’s story heavily damaged the University of Virginia’s reputation. Most importantly, Jackie damaged the credibility of anyone who has ever come forward and spoken up about his or her sexual assault.
I personally have never felt the wounds of sexual assault, nor do I know of anyone who has. I do know that sexual assault is very grave and should always be taken seriously. I commend the public for supporting Jackie when her story came out, supporting her and others who felt the wounds of sexual assault in their own personal ways. Unfortunately, Jackie lied.
Her lie opens the door to the possibility that sexual assault, without a great deal of evidence, could be taken less seriously because of the lack of credibility. Jackie’s lie prevented some from mustering up the courage to report their own sexual assaults out of fear. Jackie reinstated the fear in the victims of sexual assault that they would not be taken seriously. Even more so, the disproving of her exposé leads the public to believe that stories like Jackie’s don’t occur on and off college campuses, fostering a certain rape culture in which speculation surrounds the victims and their accusations fall on deaf ears.
Her story is a disgrace.
The announcement from the Charlottesville Police Department comes during BC’s Concerned About Rape Week, an event put on by the Women’s Center to raise awareness about sexual assault and for students to share their experiences and support others affected by the crimes. As allies of these victims, it is imperative that we take any accusation of rape and other forms of sexual assault seriously.
Thankfully, BC has taken claims on campus very seriously in the past, sparing them from the Department of Education’s list of universities across the nation under investigation for Title IX violations in dealing with sexual assault. However, we can’t let ourselves believe that rape culture being addressed at BC equates to the elimination of rape culture as a whole.
It takes a nation to ally itself with the victims and offer support for them, and in the spirit of C.A.R.E. Week, students can stand in solidarity with the victims as their supporters increasing awareness of sexual assault and taking the steps to prevent it at Boston College and everywhere.