Sex crimes still relevant after UVA
If you haven’t been keeping up with the news, Rolling Stone published an article last November that stirred a national conversation across college campuses about sexual assault. The article detailed a harrowing account of a University of Virginia student named Jackie and her gang rape at a campus fraternity house.
On Sunday, April 5, Rolling Stone retracted the article.
It didn’t take long for reporters and readers alike to question Jackie’s account detailed in the original article. In December, Rolling Stone’s managing editor Will Dana stated, “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.”
The original story has since been taken down from the magazine’s website. In its place is the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism’s report captioned: “An anatomy of a journalistic failure.”.
Rolling Stone has ultimately shaped the story as a failure to engage in basic journalistic practice. The writer of the article, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, defended herself: “I allowed my concern for Jackie’s well-being, my fear of re-traumatizing her, and my confidence in her credibility to take the place of more questioning and more facts. These are mistakes I will not make again.”
I have only a few things to say about Erdely’s statements: We should show concern for sexual assault survivors and consider them credible. Erdely indeed failed as a journalist by not questioning and fact-checking with other sources, but her statement can have repercussions for many sexual assault survivors and their treatment by the media. It’s important to listen to survivors and be supportive. Any writer can do this while maintaining their journalistic principles.
The report published by Columbia University’s journalism school also details how Erdely could have potentially built a story around other survivors’ accounts, but felt that Jackie’s story would draw in more readers. “A Rape on Campus” is one of Rolling Stone’s most popular recent stories. But you cannot, and shouldn’t even try to, rank or compare traumatic experiences.
Aside from the journalistic failures, I fear what effect this retraction will have at a greater scale. As news that Rolling Stone retracted the article broke Sunday night, I watched Facebook posts pop up under the “University of Virginia” trending feed. One read, “It would be good if this Jackie woman could be locked away in prison," and another seconded that “the university and fraternity have had their reputations ruined.”
Sure, the university and the fraternity have had a blow to their reputations. People have vandalized and attacked the fraternity in question, and the university’s administration has scrambled to keep up with the backlash. But that’s not the point; people are forgetting the initial discussion that started in response to Jackie’s account.
Sexual assault was and still is a serious problem on college campuses. In 2013, there were 15 reported on-campus sexual assaults at the University of Virginia. At Carnegie Mellon, the number of reported on-campus assaults has more than tripled from 2011 to 2013.
When the Rolling Stone article was published, other survivors from all around the country came forward to share their stories. The nation had finally turned its attention to the issue of on-campus sexual assaults, but now it seems that the nation has lost interest.
Campus assaults are still underreported and survivors still need support. We’ve made progress as a campus with the ever-growing Survivor Support Network (SSN) and the work of the administration. To some, the Rolling Stone catastrophe is the end of it, but it really isn’t. We can’t let the discussion die down just as it’s beginning.