Rolling Stone told story of "Jackie," who alleged she was gang raped at UVA
The magazine published an apology for the story and said it had misplaced trust in Jackie
Advocates worry that fallout will mean a distraction from rape on college campuses
A controversial Rolling Stone article began a heated conversation about rape on college campus after a student the magazine called “Jackie” described being gang raped at a University of Virginia fraternity.
Now some advocates worry where that conversation is headed after the magazine flagged possible flaws in the article.
“I’ve had a lot of our members, especially sexual assault survivors, emailing me, asking if this is going to distract from the broader, bigger problem of sexual assault on campus,” said Monika Johnson-Hostler, president of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence. “They’re worried that fallout from one story is going to give people a reason to believe campus sexual assault isn’t a real problem or it’s been overhyped.”
One in five women are sexually assaulted during college, according to a White House task force report issued this summer.
Last month, Rolling Stone published Jackie’s story, a harrowing retelling of how she was allegedly raped by seven men at a Phi Kappa Psi party in 2012. The article sparked international outrage and placed the University of Virginia in the spotlight on the issue of campus sexual assault.
Students protested, and university officials banned Greek activities for the semester and vowed change.
Then The Washington Post identified holes in the story. Also on Friday, Rolling Stone posted an apology on its website. Editors had chosen not to contact the man who allegedly orchestrated the attack on Jackie, nor did the magazine attempt to contact any of the men Jackie claimed participated in the attack for fear that that could bring retaliation against the college student.
Editors regretted that, the note said.
The note went a step further, saying: “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.”
A day later, Rolling Stone amended that note. It removed the reference to trust being misplaced and added this: “These mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie.” The magazine offered no explanation for the update.
Rolling Stone has been accused of victim blaming when it said that its trust in Jackie was “misplaced.”
On CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” writer Hanna Rosin spoke about the peril of focusing blame on Jackie.
Rolling Stone’s initial apology that said its trust in Jackie was misplaced “essentially said this is Jackie’s fault but, you know, Jackie is not a journalist,” Rosin said. “She doesn’t know the rules of journalism. She’s just telling her own story. It’s on us to know that you have to trust but verify. You have to check the sources. You have to figure out with the story is true because if not you end up in a mess like the one we’re in now.”
Johnson-Hostler said that by focusing on the telling of one survivor’s story, it can have the unintended consequence of holding that experience as the “true” rape experience. “It can imply to a survivor, ‘Well, my experience wasn’t as bad as that one, so maybe I wasn’t raped,’ ” said she said.
Would all of that actually make it less likely survivors might come forward?
“A survivor will see the way this young woman in the Rolling Stone article is being attacked from all sides – from the media, from the school, from the Greek system – and think it’s not worth coming forward,” said John Foubert, an Oklahoma State University professor who was an assistant dean at UVA from 1998 to 2002. He has devoted much of his career researching sexual assault in college and military culture.
Are discrepancies really that?
Foubert says the “noise” around the Rolling Stone editors’ apology will probably mean survivors are going to be less willing to share their stories with journalists.
Some advocates feel that keeping those stories in the dark only makes survivors feel more alone and it takes away from the public’s education about preventing and reporting sexual assault.
As far as perceived discrepancies in Jackie’s story, Foubert said that could simply be symptom of the trauma she endured. “Someone who experiences such extreme stress will talk and remember the stress in different ways at different times, through each telling. The assumption is that it didn’t happen or she’s lying.”
That is not in line with the way post traumatic stress presents itself, he said.
University of Virginia English professor Susan Fraiman also worries that the attention paid to the Rolling Stone story will detract from the bigger picture at the school.
“There’s a broader desire to make sure that adjudication of rape cases are handled fair,” she told CNN.
Even after the Rolling Stone article published, there was more fallout from UVA regarding campus sexual assaults.
Associate Dean of Students Nicole Eramo, who guides women through their options when they report they’ve been assaulted, recently told WUVA that no student had been expelled for committing sexual assault, even when the accused admitted it.
Eramo told WUVA that there had been 38 reports of sexual assault last year.
CNN’s Sara Ganim contributed to this story.