Feminism

Rolling Stone Retracts Sexual Assault Allegations Suddenly Rape No Longer Exists

Rolling Stone magazine just released the following statement that will prove to be devastating to survivors and victims of sexual assault. You think women were scared to report before? Watch how many times this story will be thrown in the faces of victims who dare to speak up in the future in an attempt to dismiss all rape reports. Watch how many people simply don’t report because of it.

 

By  | December 5, 2014

To Our Readers:

Last month, Rolling Stone published a story titled “A Rape on Campus” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, which described a brutal gang rape of a woman named Jackie at a University of Virginia fraternity house; 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. The story generated worldwide headlines and much soul-searching at UVA. University president Teresa Sullivan promised a full investigation and also to examine the way the school responds to sexual assault allegations.

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. Her friends and rape activists on campus strongly supported Jackie’s account. She had spoken of the assault in campus forums. We reached out to both the local branch and the national leadership of the fraternity where Jackie said she was attacked. They responded that they couldn’t confirm or deny her story but had concerns about the evidence.

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. We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.

Will Dana
Managing Editor

The search for truth and justice, both in journalism and in the streets, should be of the utmost priority to all of us. But this story does more than potentially clear the name of those that may have been falsely accused, it encourages the dismissal of the testimonies of victims of sexual assault everywhere. Victims were already afraid to speak up. This high profile case will be the go to story for every woman-hating misygonist for years to come. Rolling Stone has not only done terrible journalism they have effectively aided in the discrediting and victim blaming of sexual assault victims everywhere. AND they have paved over the fact that Universities and police already do a terrible job of handling the majority of rape reports as it is.

 

This is bad.

 

 

 

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics. She is the fearless leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Follow her on twitter: @SurlyAmy or on Google+. Tip Jar is here.

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14 Comments

    1. I had a look at the links provided and IIRC accurately the discrepancies were
      1. The date of the assault – that frat claims it had no party that night
      2 No member of that fraternity was employed at the pool as stated
      3 No member matched the description of Jackie’s date
      4 The number of perps changed from 7 to 5.

      You know what? I don’t care. Maybe it happened the week before. Maybe the perp was quietly expelled and is no longer a member. The numbers may initially have included the 2 “bystanders”. There are plenty of simple explanations.

      What is important is that there were at least 2 other victims of that fraternity mentioned in the story. Multiple accusations speak to the general truth of the story. Worse, a long history of cover up was detailed.

      One thing that blows me away is that the student council keeps records of all parties held but records conveniently do not go back to fall 2012. ORLY? In this age of electronic records? Attention to this one detail could go a long way to getting at the truth in cases like this.

        1. Exactly. They have had 2 years to cover their tracks. Outright lies or half truths would be the simplest explanation.

          I tend to agree with the other John lower down on this occasion – the victim’s story is what it is, not some god’s eye view.

  1. Can I start by saying that I agree with you, because I don’t want this comment to come across as a defense of the Rolling Stones.

    Refusing to publish the original story seems to fly directly in the face of the BelieveHer movement, while refusing to retract a story they know isn’t true would seem to be a serious breach of journalistic integrity. They seem caught between a rock and a hard place. So my question is, what should they have done in this situation? I’m genuinely unsure of how to properly navigate this sort of thing.

    1. I don’t have the answer either. But I will say that with great power comes great responsibility. Rolling Stone is a highly circulated and highly read publication amongst young readers. They have the ability to influence how society views a topic. If Rolling Stone did publish a false rape claim (and we don’t even know for sure if that is true) they have fed into the myth that more rape claims are false than are true. They now have a responsibility to counter that claim with facts so that ALL WOMEN are not the victims of their bad reporting.

      1. Exactly. As a journalist myself, I cringed as I read that letter.

        Rolling Stone is caught between a rock and a hard place, which means there isn’t a good option.

        If they no longer have confidence in their story as they told it, then they have no choice but to retract it. But as Amy correctly points out, the retraction itself will have negative repercussions.

        I’m not sure what the mistake they made actually was, or if it was avoidable, but clearly they shouldn’t have run the story in the shape it was in.

        As far as undoing the damage they’ve caused? I’m not really sure there’s an easy fix for that.

        1. “[…] clearly they shouldn’t have run the story in the shape it was in.”

          Are you sure? Again, the Rolling Stone telling this woman that her word wasn’t enough evidence to run this story seems to be exactly what the BelieveHer campaign is fighting against. We can’t tell people to believe victims and then criticize them when it turns out they weren’t told the truth.

          1. There is a big difference between believing someone and retelling a story without thorough (or even rudimentary) investigation, at least if you care about your journalistic integrity.

            It seems they did not do due diligence in this case; It’s one thing to protect the accuser by not contacting the accused but they don’t appear to have done anything to corroborate even basic facts in the case.

            It was shoddy reporting and far more than the reputation of Rolling Stone stands to be hurt by this.

          2. Yes, they should not have published the story that they did.

            After some further research, it seems the reporter did a pretty haphazard job all around.

            Generally, for journalists one person’s word is actually not enough evidence to run a story. What you do is take that person’s word and then try to independently verify as much of it as you can. I don’t think this is in conflict with the idea that we should believe victims, though. For a journalist, I think, believing a victim means that you take their claims seriously and investigate them earnestly.

            In fact, I think we own that to victims. If we don’t try our best to get the story right, we end up in this type of situation, and that harms everyone.

      2. I winced when I read about this before work today. I could already see the MRAs crowing about it and using it as fodder for years to come.

        I’m kind of reminded of another case I read earlier today, about a man who was arrested and lost his job because a sheriff was “absolutely certain” he was a mysterious man appearing in a tape showing the sexual assault of a minor. The simple fact was that the sheriff had never actually verified that it was the man he arrested and no prosecutor looked at the tape for three months, right until his trial began. The end consequence was that this man lost his job (and was unable to get it back) and his house and had a lasting reputation that I’m sure is probably still with him.

        What are the consequences of Rolling Stones’ retraction?
        If the rape claim was true: it’s now confused the issue in the national consciousness. Even if the claims are true and the men of the fraternity are convicted and Rolling Stones retracts the retraction, it will be impossible to disentangle this for years. Worse, the rape victim will have been smeared as a liar for no reason.
        If the rape claim ISN’T true (and nothing else went on): then several people have had their reputations damaged for no reason and we’ll be hearing MRAs caterwauling about it for decades.

        Either way, it’s now part of the MRA conspiracy repertoire. Grand.

  2. I do not see any logic in demanding that the ‘accused’ (who were not actually accused) be solicited to ‘tell their side.’ The victim’s report is the victim’s report. Maybe the journalist could or should have expanded the investigation. I think so.

    But it is absolutely crazy to expect a victim’s report to equal some objective gods-eye view of events. If this turns out to be another Duke case, it will be terrible news for future reporters. But current policies for taking, and acting upon, sexual assault reports are absolutely appalling. The demand for reform should not be influenced by individual cases. Whether those are outrages of non-investigation (whether by police or journalists) or ‘happy ending’ stories where the bad guys go to jail.

    Rape is a crime committed by repeat offenders, every report needs intense investigation, not so much of the specific incident, though that is obviously required for prosecution, but of the behavior and track record of the accused. In case after case, offenders with monstrous records have walked because the specific charge wasn’t accepted, largely because the perpetrator’s known history was ignored or suppressed.

  3. Rape is a crime… that needs intense investigation by professional criminal investigators, not school students or administrators best qualified to adjudicate accusations of cheating, or a magazine crew whose primary incentive is to sell advertising.

    Rape is a crime… whose victims need counseling by professionals, not from a magazine writer, editor and publisher looking for macabre, shocking and sensational stories that sell advertising.

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