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07 December, 2014

Cavalier Attitudes Redux

A few days ago, I posted about the cavalier attitude towards rape at UVA frats and their breathern elsewhere. I was among the thousands of bloggers and hundreds of news media outlets that picked up on the story.

Now, it turns out that the Rolling Stone article that triggered the uproar itself took a cavalier attitude with the truth and verification.

Some digging by reporters at the Washington Post, among others, found that "Jackie," the victim spotlighted in the original article, had said some things that are not verifiable, and others that appear to be outright false. Predictably, thousands of bloggers and hiundreds of news media outlets have picked up on this story.

Part of the response is to point at Rolling Stone and accuse the magazine and its reporter of sloppy journalism. True enough, it appears, although I myself have done zero actual reporting on this and don't believe that most of the critics have, either. I see the bandwagon, but won't jump on.

But another common element in reactions is to jump on Jackie. Another girl with regrets or some other problem claiming rape. I see this bandwagon, and would like to stop it, or at least give it a flat.

The Post story--which does show evidence of thorough reporting and includes interviews with Jackie, her friends, and others at UVA--does not say she was not raped, though there are inconsistencies and doubts about the details. The frat accused in the original article turns out not to have had an official even on the date in question, the "main" rapist is not a brother in that frat, and they deny having a policy of including rape as part of pledging (no kidding). Instead of being vaginally gang-raped and beaten, her friends say she was orally gang-raped by maybe 5 guys, not 7.

Merely forced to perform oral sex while being held in a frat bedroom. You comfortable with blaming her now?

Not me.

The frat, with the benefit of money, lawyers, and status, has launched a counter-attack on Jackie, as you would expect whether they had a role to play or not. Money and power have a way of walking away free, particularly in an institution so steeped in tradition and white male privilege. Even is it were no different than other universities, UVA has the added defense of the enclave; campuses have their own law more often than not. This was a main point of the article (for which Jackie was the misfortunate poster child), that UVA and many other institutions of higher learning steer rape victims toward options other than prosecution of their attackers. Out in the real world, rapists have no such options.

The Post's follow-up and fact-checking does not lead them to the conclusion that the entire story is fabricated. They don't refute at all the bigger points of Rolling Stone's article, that UVA has a culture that glorifies frat boys and winks at rape, and presents victims with a range of options that systematically result in non-prosecution of rapists. Not just winks, but shuts its eyes, as evidenced by the lack of student dismissals for sexual assault while staunchly guarding its reputation by dismissing violators of the academic honor code.

Nonetheless, fratboys and their supporters in news and social media attack Jackie. I feel incredibly sorry for her, having to endure this second wave of assault.

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