Would You Report Your Rape?

Danielle Campoamor shares her own experience:

I always thought that if I ever became a victim of sexual assault, I’d say something. I’d be the girl reporting it, sitting on a witness stand and pointing a defiant finger, just like the actresses on SVU. There wouldn’t be a second thought or a deliberate pause; I’d simply speak up because that’s, of course, what you do. And then I became a victim of sexual assault.

When the police officer was standing in front of me, a pad of paper in one hand and an overworked pen in the other, and asked me if I wanted to file charges, I paused. Tears were running down my cheeks and my legs wouldn’t stop shaking and my best friend’s hand, honorable in its intentions, failed to comfort me. The officer had already asked me how many drinks I had consumed. In fact, he asked me on three separate occasions. He had already asked what I could have possibly said or unintentionally inferred, prior to being forced onto a bed. He had already raised his eyebrows and tightened his lips and wrinkled his brow.

And a part of me already knew. So, I said no. I just wanted it over.

She did eventually report the assault, only to be met with condescension:

The detective explained to me that women get “confused” rather regularly. He explained that many a woman sat in my chair, defiantly lying until they couldn’t lie anymore. He told me that drinking and judgment and embarrassment, even boyfriends, can contribute to a woman continuing to cry wolf. He asked me if this was what I was doing. Was I confused? Was I ashamed? After all, I had been drinking.

I said no.

The detective nodded, almost annoyed that I didn’t save him the extra paperwork. He told me he would do what he could, but often times the “he said/she said” cases don’t go anywhere. He assured me that even if it didn’t, a report would be on record. I guess he thought that would be comforting.

That was almost two years ago. Nothing has happened. The evidence is backlogged and the detective is out of contact and the monster is still hiding.

McArdle tries to relate to such stories:

When I was in college, I was the victim of someone who stole a bunch of money from me. I knew who it was, and I didn’t report it to anyone except a couple of friends. Why not? Years later, I’m not sure I can say. I can cite a deeply ingrained aversion to asking for help from authorities, which is certainly a part of my character, or point out that the accusation would have been hard to prove, even though, for tedious reasons I won’t go into, I was quite certain who had committed the theft. But that could just be post-hoc rationalization; what I actually remember is that it happened, and I didn’t report it. Instead, I stopped buying food for about a week. And I wasn’t even faced with having to rehearse hours of unimaginably gruesome trauma over and over to investigators.

So I find it extremely easy to believe that a girl stumbled out of a fraternity house, bruised and humiliated, and just wanted to go home and pretend it never happened. But even if I couldn’t, that wouldn’t be evidence of much of anything, except the contours of my imagination. People do crazy, insane, unaccountable things all the time — if you found it hard to believe that fraternity brothers committed a premeditated gang rape, why was it so easy to imagine that a girl made up a rape story to recount to a national magazine, where she risked humiliating exposure? Whichever you believe, the explanation for this seemingly insane behavior is the same: Sometimes, people aren’t very good at counting the consequences of their own actions.

Did Jackie Lie? Or Misremember?

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?

Illiberal Feminism Strikes Again, Ctd

Judith Levine has a must-read on the intellectual climate that prompted some to attack any early skepticism of the Rolling Stone story:

On Jezebel, Anna Merlan expressed her opinion with characteristic Jezebelian eloquence: “‘Is the UVA Rape Story a Gigantic Hoax?’ Asks Idiot” And typically, readers chimed in with gender-baiting: “But never mind Erdely’s months of work. Two guys who have no idea what they’re talking about don’t believe it. Case closed.”  “Newsflash: Most libertarians are misogynist/racist white men.”

Lovely, innit? The way in which these individuals use race and gender as ipso facto damning aspects of people’s identities does not seem to jolt them into any self-awareness. These crusaders against bigotry are awfully fond of it when it can be used to dismiss critics. But what I see most acutely is the sense – prevalent on the left these days – that there are no fair-minded people out there, that all men are potential rapists or rape-denialists, that patriarchy is so powerful there’s no chance at all that someone could actually believe, say, that there is a serious rape crisis on many campuses but that the Rolling Stone story is too flawed a piece of journalism to defend:

Which is to say that these writers are not liberals in any meaningful sense of the word. Deep down, they simply don’t believe people are open to persuasion. Which is why they need to rely on graphic exaggerations, emotional blackmail or endless circles of victimology to make their case. So anyone who might question the specific details of an alleged rape are “rape-denialists” or “rape-truthers” rather than, you know, journalists. And that particularly includes women who may not tow toe the party line:

Vanquished bodies litter the blogosphere. Canadian journalist Anna Duckworth knew CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi well; he’d been her generous mentor for years. So when accusations began to surface that he had sexually brutalized numerous women, she spoke up. She stressed that she didn’t think his accusers were lying. All she asked was that her friend be assumed innocent until proven guilty.

Duckworth’s attackers “made me feel great shame for coming to Jian’s defense,” she wrote on Huffington Post. “Some went as far as to call people like me misogynists, victim blamers and perpetrators of rape culture.” In a short piece, the word “shame” appeared six times.

Over the years, Cathy Young, a Newsday columnist and contributor to Reason, has written and spoken widely on false accusations of rape and the threats to justice in a kind of overzealous feminist jurisprudence. Young is a feminist who also cherishes individual liberty (you can’t blame her; she grew up in the Soviet Union). Her reporting is meticulous. She never claims that rape is not real, though she is interested in why someone might lie. But Young’s work is repeatedly twisted and she is tarred as, among other things, an “anti-feminist victim blamer.”

I also feel that this climate subtly makes errors like the Rolling Stone story more likely. And Lizzie Crocker fears that culture of victimhood is making it more difficult to find the truth behind stories like Jackie’s:

The problem with valorizing the victim, as a “victim culture” does, is that anything that runs contrary to the victim’s narrative is cast as an attack on that person. Question them, and you are colluding in exacerbating the awful effects of their trauma. Question their actions or motives and you are “victim shaming” and “victim blaming.”

Of course, the flip-side of a victim is a bully, and it is notable that today, everyone rushes to be a victim—the right wing under attack from the left, the left under attack from the right, bigots still seeking to attack gay people, and claiming they cannot voice their bigotry. “Playing the victim” used to be a term of scorn, now it’s a daily modus operandi to score any number of political and cultural points. Question those taking on the mantle of victimhood and you are immediately cast as some kind of aggressive, unfeeling oppressor.

The sad consequence of a culture of victimhood is that it obscures real victims and obscures the genuinely felt experiences of those victims, whatever they have endured.

Couldn’t put it better myself. Previous Dish on illiberal feminism here. Update from a reader, who notes the classy apology from Merlan (which we highlighted last week) and makes some key distinctions:

I appreciate this discussion, I really do.  But as a person who has voraciously consumed everything I could find on the UVA story, I feel it important to note that once the Rolling Stone story was retracted, Anna Merlan offered a sincere apology to both Richard Bradley and Robby Soave.  I think all of us have gone off half-cocked at some point in our lives, and Merlan showed some class by owning up to her mistake and apologizing.

I will add that that while there has been some of the usual illiberal ranting and raving (see e.g. Marcotte), there has also  been a lot of great writing on the RS piece by feminists and liberals at DoubleX, TNR, Feministing, and the New Yorker, among others.  It seems that quite a few liberals, leftists, and feminists still care about the truth.   That has been an enormous relief and so gratifying to see.  I had begun to wonder if the left believed the narrative really was more important than the truth.   I’m relieved to see that many people on the left still think the facts are important, and are still dedicated to getting those facts right.

I was one of your first subscribers, and I’ll be the last one to bail. Just keep doing what you’re doing.

Did Jackie Not Want Her Story Told?

Rape survivor Jade Reindl argues that “Jackie”, the victim at the center of Sabrina Rudin Erdely’s disputed Rolling Stone piece about rape at the University of Virginia, was violated a second time when she asked Erdely to remove her from the story and Erdely refused:

Here’s the thing about rape that most people seem to get: it’s violating. It requires a lack of consent. It’s an event full of pain and regret. Here’s the thing about sharing a rape victim’s story without their permission that most people don’t seem to get: It’s violating. It requires a lack of consent. It’s an event full of pain and regret.

If someone agreed to have sex with you earlier in the day, but when it came time to actually do it they no longer consented, and you had sex with them anyway, was it rape? When you share the story of a rape victim without her consent, even if she formerly consented, it is a complete re-violation of her personal space and narrative. It doesn’t matter why Jackie, the subject of Rolling Stone’s article about UVA and sexual assault, later retracted her statements. And the aim of this article is not to justify or analyze her hesitation. What I’m saying is this: By publishing an article that the victim retracted her support of, Rolling Stone essentially violated Jackie, and every other survivor, all over again.

Sarah Kliff also considers this an ethical violation on Erdely’s part:

Publishing a story about a rape victim against her will is dangerous, and arguably unethical, journalism.

It goes completely against the DART Center for Journalism and Trauma, a respected advisory group at Columbia University’s Journalism School, guidelines for how to report on sexual assault. There is an entire section that directs reporters to “respect a potential interviewee’s right to say no.”

“Be fair and realistic. Don’t coerce, cajole, trick or offer remuneration,” the guidelines instruct. If Rolling Stone published the story against Jackie’s will, that is a terrible mistake on the magazine’s part — and a violation of the ethical guidelines reporters should follow when reporting difficult, and sensitive stories about rape. And it’s coupled with the fact that Rolling Stone didn’t track down the accused rapists.

In Hanna Rosin’s view, in a post we noted last night, one of Erdely’s biggest errors was in making a promise to Jackie that she, as a journalist, should not have kept:

Jackie told the Post that she felt “manipulated” by Erdely. She said that she was “overwhelmed” by sitting through interviews with her and asked to be taken out of the story, but Erdely said it would go forward anyway. Jackie said she “felt completely out of control of my own story.” Erdely has implied that she made an agreement with Jackie that she would tell her story but not try to contact her assailants. Rolling Stone explained in their statement today: “Because of the sensitive nature of Jackie’s story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her.”

Such agreements are apparently not uncommon. In survivors’ groups, advocates advise victims to strike these kinds of deals with reporters so they don’t lose control of their own stories, or anger their assailants, both of which they consider paramount to healing. But this creates an impossible situation for journalists: Ask too many questions and you lose your source. But don’t ask enough and you end up in this situation, with a story that’s falling apart.

But what really puzzles Rosin is that the account Jackie’s friends gave to the WaPo last week, though very different from the one Jackie told Erdely, was more than horrible enough to get the point across:

The baffling thing here is, if what Jackie told Andy is true, that would have made an explosive enough story about campus sexual violence. A group of men force a freshman to perform oral sex. She reports it to the university and they don’t investigate. That’s a disturbing story. But if Andy is to be believed, that means Jackie told an exaggerated story to Erdely, and that Erdely was all too happy to create an even more perfect victim, one who was brutally gang raped and then left at the curb by her so called friends, thus further traumatizing her, and leaving her to fend for herself in a culture too backward for progressive thought.

Too-good-to-leave-unembellished. Libby Nelson wonders if Jackie was properly informed of what she was getting herself into:

If a journalist were completely honest with a source about what it means to be interviewed for this sort of story, it would go something like this: you are going to tell me about the worst day of your life, because you think there is value in sharing that story with the rest of the world. You need to trust me, but you need to know I am not your friend. I will seem as sympathetic as I can be, but I will also note the exact moment you start crying so I can write about it. I will ask questions that might make you uncomfortable. I will call other people and tell them what you’re saying about them. I will open you up to the judgment of the entire world. And then I will walk away. And if you aren’t ready to deal with that, you shouldn’t talk to me.

I don’t know if anyone would consent to that. And I don’t know if I could really shoot myself in the foot with that much honesty. No decent human wants to appear to doubt the word of a rape victim. But if you don’t do that work in private, you make it that much easier for the rest of the world to do it in public. That’s what Rolling Stone — and Jackie — are about to learn.

Like Rosin, Peter Suderman suspects Erdely of erasing the line between journalism and advocacy:

Advocates for rape victims and sexual assault awareness understandably tend to prioritize support, communication, and community building; they do not have a great responsibility to doubt, to verify, and to rigorously check all the minute details of the accounts they hear or share. But journalists do. To be sure, this sort of checking is almost always difficult, time-consuming, and stressful. Inevitably, some mistakes will be made (I’ve certainly made a few regretful errors of my own). There are tradeoffs between time and accuracy. But the more sensational the story, the more shocking and potentially consequential its allegations, the more that effort is necessary—especially with a long-form account that is not under the pressures and deadlines of daily journalism, and especially when the subject and major source of the story tries to back out, as Jackie apparently did.

The way Morrissey sees it, that’s the core of the problem:

[T]he damage wasn’t limited to just “Jackie.” The fraternities at UVa got shut down for no good reason, the one fraternity named got vandalized on top of that, and several men came under suspicion for a crime that they not only didn’t commit but maynot have happened at all. That is what happens when activists hijack journalism to further their agenda at the expense of the truth, a value which clearly wasn’t a high priority for either Erdely or anyone at Rolling Stone. If the truth had been their agenda, they would have doubled their efforts to make sure their story was solid, rather than simply act as stenographers for someone who told Erdely what she not only wanted to hear, but actively campaigned to find.

Natasha Vargas-Cooper, on the other hand, blames Rolling Stone and the magazine industry writ large for preferring sensationalism over facts:

There are few industries as cynical and craven as magazine publishing. They love a good sex scandal or true crime story. You can watch out for the next longform piece of a college campus rape story that’s corroborated. Do not believe for A SECOND that Rolling Stone did not speak to alleged rapists because they were trying to be “sensitive”. It was because they were abiding by a bad promise they made to “Jackie” to not contact her alleged assailants. If they did contact those supposed assailants, they would lose a sensational and lurid first person account of a gang rape. If Jackie rescinded her claims, then the magazine would lose its hook to lure readers into a story about the much-reported — and possibly inflated — “epidemic” of sexual assaults on campus.

Liberalism, Conservatism, Skepticism

Thanks to the Washington Post, Tom Maguire and Hanna Rosin, we have a glimpse of what might have actually happened to UVA’s “Jackie”:

A group of Jackie’s close friends, who are advocates at U-Va. for sex-assault awareness, said they believe that something traumatic happened to her, but they also have come to doubt her account. A student who came to Jackie’s aid the night of the alleged attack said in an interview late Friday night that she did not appear physically injured at the time but was visibly shaken and told him and two other friends that she had been at a fraternity party and had been forced to have oral sex with a group of men. They offered to get her help and she said she just wanted to return to her dorm, said the student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

That’s a horrific story, if it pans out. The failure of the school to investigate more assiduously remains salient. The climate for young women on a campus where many readily believed the gang-rape-broken-glass-“grab it by its leg” version does not cease to be a pressing issue. The truth could be damning enough.

So why did an inflammatory, lurid, and apparently fallacious story get into print – with only one source and no corroboration – breaking most basic journalistic rules in a serious publication? Rich Bradley is surely right: it was a too-good-to-check story that echoed what many truly wanted to hear. It managed to suggest that the “rape culture” we are now told is endemic is even worse than you could possibly imagine, and ignored in plain sight. It implicated individuals in various stigmatized groups (among many journalists and activists) – i.e. the dreaded evil trifecta of “white”, “men” and “Southern”. Its details – from the shattered glass and the beer bottle sodomy – had an irresistible allure. Questioning it was like questioning whether Saddam Hussein actually did have WMDs – it seems as if you are excusing an evil figure, or being terminally naïve, or minimizing the danger. We believe what we want to believe – and, in our public debates, we also keep searching for the perfect anecdote or fact or story to refute our opponents for good and all.

Both sides do this. Republicans couldn’t accept the already-damning and uncontested facts about Benghazi – that the danger to the consulate was under-estimated, security was lax, and people died as a consequence. They had to make the story fit a bigger narrative – of treachery and betrayal at the highest levels, a story that could dispatch Obama and Clinton in one news cycle swoop. And so they have made an ass of themselves as much as Rolling Stone has. I’ve done this too – in 2002 and 2003, when I simply did not see what was in front of my nose on Iraq. So I don’t think that the lesson of this latest embarrassment is that we do not have a grave problem of campus rape; or that anything more than a tiny fraction of those claiming rape are fraudulent. I think the lesson is to be more skeptical of things you want to believe than of almost anything else.

This is difficult, especially when you believe you are in the vanguard of social justice – and the ends can justify the means. It is much easier, for example, to believe that the vicious murder of Matthew Shepard vindicates a worldview where every straight man is a gay-basher until proven otherwise, and that the hatred of gays is close-to-pathological in its fury. It is much harder to absorb a still-terrible but much more complicated story of a horrible mixture of homophobia, the meth subculture and petty criminality.

This is why liberalism matters as much as progressivism, which is on my mind a little as the demise of TNR has sunk in. For many, TNR’s legacy of airing internal dissent, its controversial questioning of progressive shibboleths, its inclusion of some conservatives in its ranks, its constant sallies against liberals as well as conservatives, and its airing of taboo subjects, make it a risibly racist/sexist/homophobic/classist institution that deserves to die. I dissent. What it long represented was the spirit of liberalism in the American tradition – a spirit of fearless inquiry, serious argument, and a concern for the truth. That TNR failed in some of these attempts does not damn it. Not to try to confront feelings with reason, or ideology with fact is a far worse inclination. In fact, as so many instant hysterical and self-serving stories flicker across our screens and phones, we need TNR’s beleaguered liberal spirit as badly as we always did. We need it among publications on the right as well as the left. In these polarized, self-cocooning days of Facebook “likes” and doxxing, of intensifying groupthink and moral posturing, of Twitter lynch-mobs and instant fads, we need  more voices willing to question their own “side”, more turds in more punchbowls, more writers willing to be open to facts that undermine their own ideology, to express skepticism precisely in those areas where dogmatism is creeping in.

We try to do that every day here at the Dish – because, in part, I was trained and influenced and formed by some of the best minds in this great liberal tradition in American letters, and because I have tried to learn from my own errors. It isn’t easy and it isn’t fool-proof. But that tradition must not die; or, sooner rather than later, our democracy will.

(Thumbnail image cropped from a photo by Bob Mical)

Yglesias Award Nominee

“This is really, really bad. It means, of course, that when I dismissed Richard Bradley and Robby Soave’s doubts about the story and called them ‘idiots’ for picking apart Jackie’s account, I was dead fucking wrong, and for that I sincerely apologize. It means that my conviction that Sabrina Rubin Erdely had fact-checked her story in ways that were not visible to the public was also wrong. It’s bad, bad, bad all around,” – Anna Merlan, Jezebel.  Award glossary here.

The UVA Story Unravels

I guess we should have seen this coming:

A lawyer for the University of Virginia fraternity whose members were accused of a brutal gang rape said Friday that the organization will release a statement rebutting the claims printed in a Rolling Stone article about the incident. Several of the woman’s close friends and campus sex assault advocates said that they also doubt the published account.

Officials close to the fraternity said that the statement will indicate that Phi Kappa Psi did not host a party on Sept. 28, 2012, the night that a university student named Jackie alleges she was invited to a date party, lured into an upstairs room and was then ambushed and gang-raped by seven men who were rushing the fraternity.

The officials also said that no members of the fraternity were employed at the university’s Aquatic Fitness Center during that time frame — a detail Jackie provided in her account to Rolling Stone and in interviews with The Washington Post — and that no member of the house matches the description detailed in the Rolling Stone account. The attorney, Ben Warthen, who has represented Phi Kappa Psi, said the statement would come out Friday afternoon. He declined to comment further …

Will Dana, Rolling Stone’s managing editor, also released a statement with new doubt. “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,” he said in a statement.

We should see what today’s statement says, and what remains of Jackie’s story – which might still be true in some respects. But this is a huge black eye for Rolling Stone. How an editor ran this piece without even speaking to its author is beyond me; how fact-checkers did not discover some of these obvious discrepancies immediately is also astounding. I guess when you’re on a crusade, “fake but true” will do.