The internet is currently exploding over Rolling Stone's correction of a story written by Sabrina Rubin Erdley about an account of gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house. Shamefully, the correction puts the blame on "Jackie," the subject of the story, for pretty much everything:
Because of the sensitive nature of Jackie's story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her. In the months Erdely spent reporting the story, Jackie neither said nor did anything that made Erdely, or Rolling Stone's editors and fact-checkers, question Jackie's credibility.
Rolling Stone then outright tosses Jackie under the bus: "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 problem is, journalism isn't purely a matter of trust. Investigative journalists collect stories and then verify the information for themselves in an ethical manner. This correction is wildly irresponsible of Rolling Stone, especially since it seems that they mishandled the story from beginning to end. Sarah Kliff at Vox notes that at one point during the writing of the story Jackie tried to withdraw her involvement, but Rolling Stone proceeded with it. T. Rees Shaprio wrote a long story about the writing of the Rolling Stone article in the Washington Post which notes that "Jackie said she asked Erdely to be taken out of the article. She said Erdely refused and Jackie was told that the article would go forward regardless." As Kliff explains, "Publishing a story about a rape victim against her will is dangerous, and arguably unethical, journalism. It goes completely against the DART Center for Journalism and Trauma, a respected advisory group at Columbia University's Journalism School, guidelines for how to report on sexual assault."
And now men's rights advocates and other various pieces of internet trash are using this incident as an example to suggest that rape claims are often falsified. This isn't true; the government's Office for Victims of Crime says that "False accusations of sexual assault are estimated to occur at the low rate of 2 percent—similar to the rate of false accusations for other violent crimes." So it's important to remember and to remind other people that this whole terrible incident isn't an example of how not to trust people's stories. It's an example of how not to write, edit, and publish a piece of investigative journalism.
The great tragedy of this whole mess would be if it convinced one woman to stay silent about her rape. We do not need to place more barriers in the way of victims of sexual assault; we need to make sure that people feel safe enough to tell their stories, so we can bring an end to rape culture. And we need to remember that campus rape is an epidemic in this country, as Dave Gilson at Mother Jones reminds us. (Wrap your head around this statistic: "nearly half the country's four-year colleges haven't conducted a single sexual assault investigation in the past five years." Now try to tell me that sexual assaults didn't happen on those campuses over the last half-decade. If you honestly believe that, you're living in a fantasy world.) Punishing victims is not the way to respond to this incident. We need to figure out how Rolling Stone allowed it to happen, and take steps to ensure that kind of journalistic ineptitude doesn't happen again.
If you need to remind yourself why it's important to believe victims of sexual assault, I'd urge you to go spend the afternoon reading the blog I Believe You | It's Not Your Fault. Their first post explains what the blog is all about, why "I believe you" is such an important, empowering sentence, and why it needs to be said more often, not less. This is a truth that everybody needs to remember, especially today.