Last month, the Rolling Stone magazine released an article telling the story of Jackie, a brutal rape victim from the University of Virginia. Since its release, the veracity of many of the victim’s claims has been challenged, and much new evidence has come to indicate there are many falsehoods in her story. However, despite this, the University of Virginia continues to punish all members of Greek life. More troubling, though, is the feminist reaction to her story. Many claim that despite its lack of truthfulness, it is okay because it has caused a discussion of rape on campus.
Jackie, the victim, told a Rolling Stone journalist that she was gang raped by 7 frat boys following a date with one of its members. She claimed the fraternity these men belonged to was Phi Kappa Psi. She stated that her date took her back to the fraternity house and stood back while 7 men raped her as part of an initiation ritual. Following this rape, Jackie claims she went to seek comfort in three friends. However, one friend tried to dissuade her from seeking police and medical attention, saying she’d be the “girl who cried ‘rape.’”
Since the article’s publication, three UVA students, claiming to be characters in the Rolling Stone narrative, have come forward to testify against the inconsistencies in her story. These students claim to be the three students who came to Jackie’s side the night of the incident. They pointed out many holes in the narrative given to the Rolling Stone magazine. First, they claim that Jackie told them she was forced to perform oral sex on 5 men, not that she was gang raped by 7 men. “Cindy” denied ever saying that Jackie would be the “girl who cried ‘rape.’” “Randall” claims to not belong to fraternity, despite the Rolling Stone’s accusation that he refused to comment out of “loyalty” to his fraternity, and indicates he was never contacted by the magazine for an interview. Furthermore, Washington Post investigated the name of the man she claimed took her out on a date, and it doesn’t match any member of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, nor anyone on the University of Virginia campus. The picture that Jackie showed her friends claiming to be her date was in fact a member of her high school, who says he hasn’t been in Charlottesville for over 6 years and goes to a different university.
There was a lot of feminist backlash following other news sources questioning the veracity of Jackie’s story. One story suggests we should “generally believe rape claims.” This story continues saying, “[u]ltimately, the costs of wrongly disbelieving a survivor far outweigh the costs of calling someone a rapist.” Others claimed that due to the doubt of Jackie’s story, people were now claiming “all women who say they’ve been raped are evil liars.” And finally, others complained about perpetuating the “myth” of fake rape accusations. I find all of these general arguments to be troubling.
First, the assertion that “the costs of wrongly disbelieving a survivor far outweigh the costs of calling someone a rapist.” While I believe every accusation and victim should be taken seriously and given the help they need, I think the jump to automatically assume they’re telling the truth and the accused is automatically guilty is somewhat problematic. The United States was built on a system of justice and fairness, believing the accused to be innocent until proven guilty. This jump to automatically take the side of the accuser, while not first gathering evidence and bringing the case to a trial of one’s peers, goes against this core value. Furthermore, assuming that being falsely labeled a rapist isn’t a costly move is ignorance at best. Many people lose jobs, friends, and reputations from being accused, even if and/or after these claims are proven false.
Next, the suggestion that anyone doubting or questioning Jackie’s stop is saying, “all women who say they’ve been raped are evils liars.” No one is claiming this. Wishing to come to the bottom of a fishy story has nothing to do with other rape victims. And if her story is proven false, it will not end the seriousness of rape in America.
Finally, the claim that the existence of false rape accusations is a “myth.” This is a lie. Not only is it a lie, it’s a harmful one. This goes back to the statement that “the costs of wrongly disbelieving a survivor far outweigh the costs of calling someone a rapist.” It simply is not true. Assuming that every rape is real without evidence is a disastrous trend and can easily lead to abuse of the system. Furthermore, this statement has been proven wrong many times. Many feminist groups cite a popular 2% statistic, without attribution, however, this statistic has, for the most part, been proven false. One peer-reviewed study found that as many as 41% of rapes were false accusations. Generally, it is agreed that the actual number of false rape accusations is not, and cannot, be known, it is just important to recognize that it can, and in fact does, happen.
Since this article surfaced, many say the content and veracity of Jackie’s story is not what’s important, but the fact it started a talk about sexual assaults is. The statistic “1 in 5 college women are sexually assaulted” has been pounded into the brains of every American for years now. But is it true? According to the U.S. Department of Justice, it’s not. The numbers are much lower, averaging 6.1 per 1,000 college students and 7.6 per 1,000 for non-students. So female students are actually safer and less likely to be raped than their non-collegiate peers. Furthermore, I don’t think this “the ends justify the means” take on the possibility of a false rape accusation is correct.
Many people have been hurt by the lies in the victim’s story. Due to the claim that Jackie was raped in a frat house, Phi Kappa Psi, the University of Virginia has suspended all Greek life, not only the fraternity in question. Following the release of the Rolling Stone article, the Phi Kappa Psi house was vandalized. Jackie also painted an unfair, and supposedly false, picture of her friends the night of the incident. Was Jackie raped? I don’t know. What we do know is that she claimed it happened after going on a date with a man who doesn’t exist, at a party that never occurred, and that her story changed significantly from 5 men forcing her to give oral sex to 7 men brutally gang raping her. Whether or not she was ever raped is something we may never know, but we do know that the falsehoods in her current story have created a lot of problems for other innocent (at least until proven guilty) people’s lives. Furthermore, the gross inconsistencies and lack of journalistic integrity of the Rolling Stone magazine shouldn’t be written off as merely helping to expose the problems of college rape.