Rolling Stone’s explosive Nov 19 expose of a brutal gang rape perpetuated by seven members of a fraternity of the University of Virginia (UVA), the University’s failure to respond to this alleged assault, and the school’s “troubling history of indifference to many other instances of alleged sexual assaults,” not only sent UVA into crisis mode, but ignited worldwide debate.
Then, only two weeks later (on Saturday), in response to the surfacing of robust evidence that suggests inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the alleged victim’s story—of whom Rolling Stone writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely wrote in staunch defence—and the subsequent criticism that was targeted at Rolling Stone, UVA Managing Director Will Dana published an apology letter. Since evidence emerged in a statement issued by Phi Kappa Psi fraternity saying that there was no such fraternity event or party on that night (or even in the weeks surrounding the night in question) and that none of their members worked at the Aquatic club in 2012—as claimed by alleged victim “Jackie”—along with further evidence from interviews conducted by the Washington Post that reveals inconsistencies such as the amount of men involved in the gang rape—in the letter, Dana concedes that:
“In the face of new information reported by the Washington Post and other news outlets, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account. The fraternity has issued a formal statement denying the assault and asserting that there was no ‘date function or formal event’ on the night in question. Jackie herself is now unsure if the man she says lured her into the room where the rape occurred, identified in the story, as ‘Drew,’ was a Phi Psi brother.”
And, in response to the criticism of Rolling Stone’s questionable journalistic practices of not contacting any one of the accused offenders, Dana adds:
“Because of the sensitive nature of Jackie’s story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man who she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men who she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her. In the months Erdely reported the story, Jackie said or did nothing that made her, or Rolling Stone‘s editors and fact-checkers, question her credibility.”
However, since the publication of this apology letter, further criticism has erupted in defence of victims of sexual assault. The criticism claims that Rolling Stone conveniently exited stage left, lumping the blame on alleged victim Jackie. And even worse, as Anna Merlin from Jezebel passionately articulates, “we’ve just begun, as a society, to not immediately and harshly question a woman who says she was raped. We’ve just begun to talk about campus sexual assault—which is, to be clear, still a very real problem at UVA and across the country.”
Such a careless dismissal of this alleged assault victim and her allegations may have damaging cultural repercussions. Rape activists and supporters of sexual assault victims are now worried that as a result of this public fiasco, victims of sexual assault will be less inclined to come forward and tell their stories.
So today, Dana amended the magazine’s apology letter stating that, “These mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie.”
It would seem that indeed they are, and that better journalistic judgement and transparency in the research and publication of Erdely’s original article could have prevented much of this distress, confusion, and problematic cultural aftermath. So yeah. They really fucked up.