Just one thing rivals the horror of being raped: divulging the details of that experience. Exposing yourself as a victim of rape is to be raped again; in the naked vulnerability of the telling, you not only relive those incalculably harrowing moments, but also risk “a second assault in the form of negative reactions, such as victim blaming and disbelief.”
University of Virginia student called Jackie took that risk last month in Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s Rolling Stone exposé, “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA.” Erdely recounts Jackie’s alleged gang rape by seven fraternity brothers. Like many women before her, she faced troubling responses from her friends, who convinced her not to go to the hospital, and school administrators, who minimized her claims.
Now, her story is being questioned following the reporter’s decision not to seek comment from the men accused of raping her. Through an investigation and subsequent interviews, the Washington Postcast doubt on some of the key elements of Jackie’s story—leading Rolling Stone to issue an apology acknowledging discrepancies in her account and gaps in their reporting.
When journalists fail to do due diligence in covering stories as sensitive and significant as campus assault, it is victims who pay the price. The pain of speaking out about rape gets compounded when audiences have learned that survivors’ stories aren’t reliable, corroborated, or true. The chorus of victim-blaming sings out once again.
But there’s a reason Jackie’s story—true, partially true, or not—took off like it did. College students and grads across the country know that ...1
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