Friday, December 5, 2014

Rolling Stone Magazine Retracts UVA Fraternity Rape Allegations

Although it should scarcely need to be repeated for the generally fair minded individuals who read this blog every last single one of us has our own individual biases, which are often magnified and accelerated by our experiences and the gender, race, class, sexual, political and other identities through which we experience the world. It’s just the way human beings are. So that is why it is important, though we can all forget it from time to time, to remember that an accusation does not equal proof that a crime occurred. Sometimes people do not remember what happened. Sometimes people lie. And I have not seen any evidence that shows that lying is solely or even disproportionately the preserve of one gender or another. Men and women are equally human. We all have both angels and devils lurking within.

So when the Rolling Stone story about an alleged gang rape at UVA came out, complete with such lurid details as beatings and rape as fraternity initiation and a woman being violated on top of broken glass, I didn’t feel one way or the other about it. I wanted to see some proof. There were some inconsistencies in the account that made me think that this was more of an urban legend than an actual event but I am not a journalist or criminologist. If true then someone definitely should have been arrested and charged (unless of course the assailants were cops but I digress) Unfortunately UVA and the people who are concerned with stopping rape didn’t bother waiting to find out whether this was true or not before taking action against the fraternity (in UVA’s case) or repeating what have turned out to be untruths (in the case of the media and various other social justice warriors)

Well sometimes people who rush to be first forget to check if they're right. Other investigators, journalists and writers raised some of the same questions I had about the rape allegations. Rolling Stone actually had to go back and check its story. And it found that some of the details didn't hold up under scrutiny.

In the article, published on Nov. 19, writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely described the brutal rape of a woman — identified as Jackie — by seven men at a 2012 fraternity party, the university's failure to respond to the alleged attack and the school's troubled history of handling such cases. After its publication, both the university and the Charlottesville, Va., police department launched investigations and the fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, suspended its operations.

On Friday, Rolling Stone managing editor Will Dana issued an apology, saying there were "discrepancies" in the woman's account. "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," Dana wrote. "We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story."
Earlier this week, Erdely, who had been criticized for relying on a single source and not contacting the men accused of rape, said she stood by her reporting.“I am convinced that it could not have been done any other way, or any better,” Erdely told the New York Times. “I am also not interested in diverting the conversation away from the point of the piece itself.”

Unfortunately I’ve seen first hand the impact that rape can have on a person. It is important to state again that nobody in his or her right mind is in favor of rape. Aside from murder, rape is the worst crime you can commit against someone. So to make up something that didn’t happen, to lie about rape because you think that the greater good requires it, is a particularly low malevolent malodorous foul thing to do. But this wasn’t the first time this has happened and it won’t be the last. Human nature guarantees that slanderous false accusations will happen again. There’s no real way to stop that. But what people should remember, and I definitely include myself in this, is that just because someone you already don’t like for other reasons is accused of committing a crime doesn’t mean that they did it. If someone is convicted of rape then let them pay the penalty and then some. But accusations or stories are not equal to proof, no matter how much some of us might want them to be. Lies about rape make it more difficult for real rape victims to obtain justice. It is the nature of our justice system that some rapists will be found not guilty at trial. I don’t think that requires a rejection of the idea of “innocent until proven guilty” or that people think it’s okay to lie about an accusation. When Erdely says that she is not interested in diverting the conversation from the point of the piece itself that is a red flag that such things as truth and reality are less important to her than the cause. And that is or rather should be a problem for any of us, let alone a journalist. Erdely didn't even bother talking to the accused. She apparently didn't do basic fact checking like seeing if there was actually a frat party on the night in question. There wasn't. Truth should be among the highest values to which we aspire. There is no justice without truth.
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