Broken glass litters the ground of a pitch-black room, where nine men loom like predators, laughing and jeering during a horrific, three-hour long sexual assault. This was the subject of a Nov. 19, 2014, Rolling Stone article that ignited a firestorm of controversy across the nation.
This article detailed the alleged horrific gang rape of a college freshman at the hands of seven frat boys at the University of Virginia. The piece calls for justice for “Jackie,” the victim of this heinous crime, as the administration of UVA reportedly took insufficient measures to investigate the matter.
However, there is no justice to be served for Jackie in this case. The crime never happened. It was all a hoax.
Sabrina Erdely, a reporter for Rolling Stone, wanted to write about a case of sexual assault at an elite school. After interviewing Jackie and supposedly interviewing Jackie’s friends, she published the story.
As part of an agreement with Jackie, the magazine promised to not contact any of the men Jackie mentioned by name to ask them about the incident. Despite this lapse in investigative journalism, the magazine went ahead and published the article.
The initial impact of the story was massive. All fraternities on campus at UVA were suspended; and vandalism, death threats and protests began outside the fraternity house at the center of the accusations. Students were rallying for college administrations to handle rape on campus in a fair way that guarantees justice for victims.
It wasn’t long after being published that the article began drawing skepticism from others. Some were curious as to how Erdely investigated the incident, eventually learning that she had not interviewed any of the accused.
Fraternity officials stepped forward, noting several discrepancies in the story.
For example, the night of the supposed attack, there was no party at the fraternity house, there was no student matching the description of the “ringleader” of the rape, and the layout of the house as described by Jackie was different.
The Washington Post did some investigating and found that some of Jackie’s friends were never even interviewed by Rolling Stone, despite Erdely claiming she had interviewed them.
Then enters the existence of “Drew,” the student who leads Jackie into the rape. Drew existed solely online, messaging Jackie, and later, her friends through Facebook and text.
It was later found that the profile picture for the social media account was somebody who was an old high school classmate of Jackie’s, and who did not attend UVA, and was not even in the state at the time of the attack.
Evidence in the case has led many to speculate that Drew was made up by Jackie to make a male friend of hers jealous, who Jackie had a crush on.
After being exposed, the fallout for this story was, and continues to be enormous.
The Phi Kappa Psi fraternity is now pursuing legal action against Rolling Stone for publishing the story, claiming defamation.
The Charlottesville police department recently announced they had not found any evidence to support the article’s claims.
The Columbia Journalism School has released a report detailing all the failings in the story. Not only is it an example of wild, careless journalism, but it also damages the credibility of rape victims’ stories across the country.
This story also perpetuated the idea of fraterntal organizations as dens for sexual assault and the idea of college administrations as cold, uncaring entities that don’t want anything to upset the image or integrity of the university.
While these ideas are not completely unfounded, given the track record of certain universities, the same does not ring true for all universities.
While the problem does have to be addressed, not every university should be thrown under the bus due to the conduct of some.
“Personally, I think that this stereotyping of fraternities as the primary agitators in rape cases stems from a faulty representation of fraternities in the media,” says Mark Langebach, the VP of PR and Programming for IFC, the Interfraternity Council.
“Ever since “Animal House” and other movies that portray Greek Life as a party culture, the general public has assumed that ALL fraternities are exactly like those fictional stories.”
This stereotype is nothing new to college students, or the nation at large.
For years, cases have sprung up relating to sexual assaults at fraternity houses, which has led to a strong association between fraternities and sexual assault. The recent case on the Northwest campus comes to mind.
However, the Rolling Stone case does more than just reinforce negative stereotypes aimed at organizations. It reinforces negative ideas toward rape victims.
This story parallels the Duke lacrosse rape case of 2006, where a stripper accused three Duke lacrosse players of sexually assaulting her at a house party.
A later discovery found the supposed victim fabricated the story for some sort of personal gain. Despite the findings that accusations were false, the reputation of the students and the University were permanently damaged, as well as the credibility of sexual assault victims.
The aftermath of that case led to a reinforcement of the idea that many sexual assault victims are making up stories. The UVA case is the latest hoax to reinforce this illogical idea.
Credibility issues of the publication aside, there is nothing positive that can be taken away from this scandal. Innocent until proven guilty is a standard for justice that most of the country seems to have forgotten, especially when it comes to sexually assault cases.
The national attitude seems to be divided on sexual assault cases: Either the victim is a liar or the accusers are guilty. There is no in-between.
Either the victim is a liar, therefore making all victims liars, or the accusers are always guilty, regardless of evidence, opening them up to harassment and death threats.
This two-attitude system permeates throughout the cultural climate of America, creating harmful stereotypes of groups of people and a national attitude of “Shoot first, ask questions later” approach to social justice.