Did Jackie Lie? Or Misremember?

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 8 2014 @ 3:18pm

Maya Inamura defends the alleged UVA rape victim from those who would label her a liar:

While Rolling Stone undoubtedly should not have published an article that had inconsistencies, the fact that Jackie got some details wrong is not reason for the rest of us to throw out her entire story. Victims of trauma often have trouble remembering the exact nature of their assault, including the date on which it occurred, for which my own story of sexual assault should serve as a case in point. This is the nature of trauma: It makes forgetting easy, because forgetting is exactly what a traumatized person wants to do. It’s a coping mechanism.

As I’ve said before, I think it’s highly likely that Jackie was raped – and it’s worth noting that neither Jackie nor her friends have claimed that she was not assaulted. But, to my mind, that could lead to minor inconsistencies, or a mixed up time-line, or lots of details being wrong. But remembering that you were pinned down on a pile of broken glass, referred to as “it” and repeatedly raped with quite precise details filled in leads me to scratch my head. Anne J. Jacobson stresses that Jackie’s memory of that night could have been severely warped by whatever trauma she actually endured:

Ordinary people often enough take the fact that we have memories to show that we have recording devices inside us that somehow secure most of the details of our experiences. There are several reasons why this is false. If nothing else, calling up a memory and then restoring it alters it a bit. And memory follows vision in getting the gist of things better than getting the precise details down. There was a recent NY Times OpEd by two top researcher on memory and its fallibility. Given what we know about memory, we should expect this young woman’s memory to be gappy and to have errors. And even more so considering the trauma of the experience she was reporting. Because an organization was named by her, it may be that a reporter aware of recent memory research should have checked it.

The evidence of some trauma happening to Jackie is strong, as a former roommate explains:

I fully support Jackie, and I believe wholeheartedly that she went through a traumatizing sexual assault. I remember my first semester here, and I remember Jackie’s. Jackie came to UVA bright, happy and bubbly. She was kind, funny, outgoing, friendly, and a pleasant person to be around. That all notably changed by December 2012, and I wasn’t the only one who noticed. Our suite bonded that first semester and talked many times about the new troubles we were facing in college. Jackie never mentioned anything about her assault to us until much later. But I, as well as others, noticed Jackie becoming more and more withdrawn and depressed. …

Sometime that year I remember her letting it slip to me that she had had a terrible experience at a party. I remember her telling me that multiple men had assaulted her at this party. She didn’t say anything more. It seemed that was all she’d allow herself to say. I wish I had done something sooner. I wish I had known how to help. But I applaud Jackie for telling her story, now two years later. It was a story that needed to be told.

But if the story is not true, does it still deserve to be told? And do the people inevitably incriminated by it not have a right to respond?