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.

UVA: Pushing Back On The Pushback

Ari Schulman goes after Rich Bradley’s querying of the UVA gang-rape story:

Bradley also gets wrong numerous details of the Rolling Stone article itself: who was and wasn’t interviewed; the claim that all of Jackie’s friends discouraged her from going to the hospital; Jackie’s ostensible lack of identity; Jackie’s inability to identify the perpetrators. He changes a line from the article without noting it, adding quote marks around words that didn’t have them. He mischaracterizes Jackie’s claim that one in three women at UVA are raped. He also invokes the claim as evidence of a broader cultural climate surrounding rape in which “emotion has outswept reason.” The slip here is strange: The emotionality of an alleged rape victim is offered as evidence of the irrationality of those who would believe her. These are not minor problems for any argument, but they are particularly problematic for one that sells itself as a scolding in journalistic carefulness.

Most significant, Bradley says that if fraternity gang rape were so prevalent, “One would think that we’d have heard of this before.” But the article describes other instances of the practice, from two current allegations besides Jackie’s to a conviction in a court of a law for a prior gang rape by members of the very same fraternity at UVA. All of this is also easily verifiable outside of the Rolling Stone article. And the Washington Post, among others, has detailed the extensive history of gang rape at fraternities nationwide.

Kat Stoeffel defends Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s decision not to identify or interview the alleged rapists in her story:

Media critics have taken Erdely to task for not pressing Jackie to confirm their identities and allow her to track them down in person, though single-source narration happens without incident in less sensitive stories all the time. (There probably wasn’t anybody around to corroborate some of the details of GQ’s lauded feature on hermit Christopher Knight, either.) What makes Jackie’s story arguably different is the magnitude of her accusations: Critics of the story say that the men deserved a chance to offer their side of the story before having their names smeared. Except, what names? The only identified entity at risk of reputational harm in Rolling Stone is Phi Kappa Psi, leaders of which Erdely did reach. …

No journalist wants to fall for the next Stephen Glass or Duke lacrosse case. But Erdely wrote the piece in such a way that she and Rolling Stone — not Jackie and Drew — are the ones who will be most damaged by a false report. Meanwhile, the journalist backlash is putting feminists who believe in believing women in the uncomfortable position of hoping Jackie told the truth about her gang rape. Not because we want to confirm our biases about monstrous men, but because we’d hate to see confirmation for sexist biases about lying, attention-seeking women. In other words, we’re backed into the corner of hoping someone was gang-raped on broken glass — and how can that possibly constitute a happy ending? If anything, we should hope that Jackie is lying. Then exactly zero lives will have been ruined in this story.

In a series of tweets, Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson points out another high profile rape story in which the rapist was not contacted. Lindsay Beyerstein also counters some of the credibility pushback on the piece:

Some of the details of Jackie’s story do seem surreal, but memories of trauma are often fragmentary. She and one of her attackers allegedly tumbled through a glass coffee table. We’re told she was pinned on the floor with shattered glass digging into her back before she was raped. Hot Air’s Noah Rothman dismissed Jackie’s story as a “fantastical account of college men raping a woman atop piles of broken glass.”

Is the coffee table story really so far-fetched? I spoke to Mark Meshulam, an expert witness who testifies in court on glass and its properties. Mr. Meshulam said that the likely outcome of a fall through a glass table depends on many factors, but the biggest variable would be whether the tabletop was made of regular glass or safety glass. Both types are common, he explained. … If it were a tempered glass table, the glass would have shattered into little pebbles, which are non-lethal but still sharp enough to cut someone who’s lying on them, Mr. Meshulam said. In that case, he’d expect her to be scratched up, maybe badly enough to need stitches, but not necessarily. Which is pretty much the level of injury the story implies.

Wouldn’t all the alleged rapists have been cut up as well? Wouldn’t this have affected the entire horrifying gang rape? And one of Dreher’s readers shares a story that adds credibility to Jackie’s experience with her friends following the rape:

I was a very naive freshman going to her first college party- and I’d never been around alcohol before. I didn’t drink anything that night, but many of the people around me had a lot. One girl got incredibly drunk and a guy who wasn’t very drunk convinced her to go “watch a movie” in his room. I was too naive to understand what may have been happening here, so I didn’t do anything. When we went to leave the party with my friends, we went by that boy’s room to collect our friend- she was disheveled and extremely drunk, and her pants were down. I suspected she had been sexually assaulted.

Our group returned immediately to our dorm and an RA spotted the drunk girl as we walked in. The dorm staff called my friends and me separately into a room and asked us all exactly what we’d witnessed. Apparently their purpose was to figure out how much alcohol the girl had consumed to decide whether or not she needed to go to the ER. I naively told exactly what I’d seen that night, including the part about her disappearing to the boy’s room (so I didn’t know how much she had to drink during that time) and coming out with her pants down. Apparently no one else said anything about the boy. My “friends” figured out that I’d told that part of the story and I was immediately shunned from the social group for “tattling” and “slut-shaming.”

In light of the new criticisms about the piece, McArdle wants the cops to figure it out:

[T]he university may well be able to identify everyone, because the story strongly suggests that an entire new class of Phi Kappa Psi brothers participated in a gang rape, either of Jackie or of the two other girls who she learned were also gang raped at the fraternity around the same time that she had been.  As far as I can tell, Virginia has no statute of limitations on rape, which means the police should be aggressively investigating these sickening allegations.   The university has a duty to its own community, and to the community at large, to do its utmost to identify as many rapists as possible, and help the police to bring them to justice.  And all of us who have a stake in reducing rape — which is to say, all of us who are not rapists — should be putting as much pressure as possible on the UVA administration to ensure that it does exactly that.

And Rebecca Traister worries that people are losing sight of Erdely’s point, which is that UVA, like so many other universities, has done an abysmal job of responding to allegations of rape on campus:

The dismantling of Erdely’s storyboth by anti-feminist agonistes and by those genuinely dismayed by possible journalistic errorwould mean that Jackie’s story of being beaten and raped by seven fraternity brothers will be dismissed, and that the reading public will be permitted to slip back into the comforting conviction that stories like Jackie’s aren’t real, that rapes like that don’t happen, that our system works, and that, of course, bitches lie.

What we will all be allowed to happily forget is that there are plenty of real stories of rape: of violent rape, frat house rape, gang rape, date rape; that most rape accusers do not lie and that in fact it’s quite likely, statistically, that Jackie herself did not lie. But the most serious thing that we’ll be allowed to forget is the very point of Erdely’s story, whatever its strengths or flaws may be determined to be: The system does not work. Actually, in both the case of the UVA rape and in the case of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri the major takeaway of recent weeks should be that our systems do not work.

Freddie weighs in, saying – in essence – that truth matters:

[W]hy are people so resistant to giving these stories a rigorous and skeptical review, the way we should do with any reporting? What are you so afraid of?

The standard response is that countenancing questions about reports of rape helps denialists, who will seize on problems with reporting and use them to agitate against anti-rape efforts in general. But that doesn’t make any sense, to me. In order for that argument to hold water, you’ve got to prove that preventing these questions from being asked actually defuses rape denialism. That seems to be literally the opposite of the case; denialists are emboldened by such refusal. They seize on such resistance as evidence of conspiracy  and weak evidence. I think it’s profoundly naive to believe that we can hold the line against critical review of rape narratives in such a way as to prevent denialism. Rape denialism is a sad fact of life, but it can be combated with evidence and careful argument. Denialism is an argument for being skeptical and rigorous, not an argument against it.

I’m with Freddie and Megan on this. Get to the bottom of it. And stop trying to deter legitimate skepticism toward a piece whose horrors are so detailed and whose villains so despicable that asking further questions is perfectly natural. At some point, the posturing needs to end and the fact-finding and prosecution go forward.

Quote For The Day

“In all my time studying fraternity rapes for my own essay, I didn’t come across a single report of anything like this. I did find reports of women who were raped by multiple men on one night—but those always involved incapacitation, either by alcohol or a drugged drink. And I did also find accounts of violent, push-down rape of the kind in the essay—but those were always by one member, not a bunch of members. (In fact, many of that kind—now that I think about it—were committed by non-members, or by visiting former members). But a planned gang rape, without alcohol or drugs, and keyed to initiation—I have never seen a case like that. Nor have I seen penetration with a foreign object—I’ve seen plenty of that committed by brothers to pledges as hazing, but I haven’t seen it in sexual assault cases. I’m sure it’s happened, but again—as part of a ritualized gang rape … Never anything like it,” – Caitlin Flanagan, author of the definitive piece on frat house culture, to Slate‘s Hanna Rosin and Allison Benedikt.

The Best Of The Dish Today

Is the gang-rape story at UVA credible? We’ve been covering it for a while now – perhaps a little too credulously – but a reader did raise some questions about its credibility in our second post. My old roommate and friend, Rich Bradley, had a ballsy must-read on it last week that raises one obvious question: why did the reporter not even try to talk to any of the alleged rapists? This should set off alarm bells for any editor, and yet the editor insists all due skepticism was applied, even though he never personally spoke with Jackie. I’m sorry but if you’re running a story about such a terrible accusation relying on one key source and do not personally vet that source, you’re not doing your job. Tom Maguire even dug up a comment on the NYT message board for a piece on the rape that claims first hand knowledge that some quotes in the piece were indeed made up. Erik Wemple has also weighed in:

This lapse is inexcusable: Even if the accused aren’t named in the story, Erdely herself acknowledges that “people seem to know who these people are.” If they were being cited in the story for mere drunkenness, boorish frat-boy behavior or similar collegiate misdemeanors, then there’d be no harm in failing to secure their input. The charge in this piece, however, is gang rape, and so requires every possible step to reach out and interview them, including e-mails, phone calls, certified letters, FedEx letters, UPS letters and, if all of that fails, a knock on the door. No effort short of all that qualifies as journalism.

I have to agree. That doesn’t mean the gang-rape didn’t happen; and it doesn’t mean that the university’s response was defensible. It does mean that when you’re reporting on a terribly serious and appalling crime, you talk to as many of those involved as you possibly can. I have a feeling that this story is by no means over.

Today, on the good news fronts (to me, at least): HIV is getting weaker as a virus and the number of abortions is back down to pre-Roe levels; Obama has made slow but real progress in isolating Ebola, ISIS and Putin; and Hillary Clinton is less popular than at any point since 2009. I also made the case that the Schumer critique of Obama putting healthcare reform before economic recovery disintegrates upon inspection. Plus: another awesome fall window; a weed breathalyzer makes its debut; and a comedian tells stories about his gigs on campuses.

The most popular post of the day was Walking While Black (updated here); followed by Listening.

Many of this week’s posts were updated with your emails – read them all here.  You can always leave your unfiltered comments at our Facebook page and @sullydish. 22 more readers became subscribers today. You can join them here – and get access to all the readons and Deep Dish – for a little as $1.99 month. Gift subscriptions are available here. Dish t-shirts are for sale here and our new mugs here.

A reader comments on our latest transparency update:

Congrats on the slow and steady growth.  I’ve been a loyal and daily reader for somewhere around a decade now and subscribed as soon as you started your new model.  Here’s what will lose me faster than anything: if you go the way of so many websites that have to have a massively cluttered webpage with ads here and there, countless articles to link to. Most news sites and blogs have turned into a mess in their efforts to be all things to all people. Besides your varied content, what I love best about your website is the very simple set-up and interface.  Change that and you’ll lose me.

Slow and steady is a beautiful thing, even in the Internet age.

And often especially so. See you in the morning.

The Damage Control Is Done, Ctd

In light of the horrific allegations that UVA covered up a student’s gang-rape, Libby Nelson imagines applying the university’s honor code – which has seen 183 students expelled over academic infractions since 1998 – to sexual assault allegations:

When California colleges began requiring affirmative consent, or “yes means yes,” there was an outcry from commentators afraid that they were reclassifying ordinary sex as rape. But “yes means yes” is simply the sexual version of an academic honor code. It’s acknowledgment that attending a college is not a right but a privilege that comes with responsibilities, and that one of those responsibilities is to treat fellow students with respect. …

Although false accusations of rape are extremely rare, a wrongful criminal conviction for sexual assault is a travesty. A wrongful expulsion from college after due process for the accused is deeply unfair, but it leaves a less permanent stain. If a student expelled for sexual assault enrolls elsewhere, their transcript doesn’t usually list the reason for the expulsion, and colleges don’t have to disclose the details.

Wendy McElroy disagrees on that last point:

A common rejoinder is that hearings are not legal proceedings. But the hearings actually operate in a legal gray zone.

For example, the last campaign from the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault includes improving cooperation with the police. Increasingly, the testimony an accused gives without due process can be turned over for use by the police and courts. Moreover, the hearings impose penalties as draconian as a court. A student can be expelled with the word “rapist” permanently in his file. He may be tens of thousands of dollars in debt with no ability to obtain a license to practice his chosen profession. Many unlicensed professions will shun him as well. What university of quality will accept him? His reputation and belief in justice may be damaged beyond repair.

Rebecca Plante and Andrew Smiler take a different view, arguing that the low standards of evidence used by the university’s misconduct board actually make them less likely to “convict”:

Although apparently the president’s office was aware of allegations of sexual felonies, including gang rapes, it also appears that the Charlottesville police were not asked to investigate until recently. Why are colleges and universities investigating allegations of felony sex-related crimes without having to involve local law enforcement? Given the paucity of the training, is it reasonable to expect board members and university staff members to investigate and adjudicate such serious criminal allegations? Board members are also expected to base their findings on a preponderance of evidence (for example, a 51-percent likelihood that a crime was committed). That standard may dissuade board members from finding the accused guilty.

Meanwhile, like one of our readers, Richard Bradley finds the Rolling Stone story incredible:

Jackie makes her way downstairs, her red dress apparently sufficiently intact to wear; the party is still raging. Though she is blood-stained – three hours with shards of glass “digging into her back,” and gang-raped, including with a beer bottle – and must surely look deeply traumatized, no one notices her. She makes her way out a side entrance she hadn’t seen before. She calls her friends, who tell her that she doesn’t want to be known as the girl who cried rape and worry that if they take her to the hospital they won’t get invited to subsequent frat parties.

Nothing in this story is impossible; it’s important to note that. It could have happened. But to believe it beyond a doubt, without a question mark – as virtually all the people who’ve read the article seem to – requires a lot of leaps of faith. It requires you to indulge your pre-existing biases.

Bradley’s skepticism makes Robby Soave wonder:

[W]hen I say that I was initially inclined to believe the story, it’s not because I wanted or needed it to be true to fit my worldview. Rather, I assumed honesty on the part of the author and her source—not because I’m naive, but because I didn’t think someone would lie about such an unbelievable story. This isn’t a case of he-said / she-said; this is an extraordinary crime that indicts a dozen people and an entire university administration. Assuming a proper investigation—which the police are now conducting—confirming many of the specific details should be relatively easy. If “Jackie” is lying, there is a good chance she will be caught (and Erdely’s career ruined). So I believed it.

However, some of the details do strike me as perplexing on subsequent re-reads.

Yglesias Award Nominee

“I cannot shake the image of “Jackie” being serially raped on a broken glass table by a fraternity gang a few hundred yards from my office at UVA, perhaps by men who have taken a class by me, especially knowing that her rapists have paid no legal or educational price for their heinous deeds. My own sense of horror and outrage is only deepened by what I found out yesterday: In my Sociology of the Family class, in an anonymous survey, seven of the 103 female students that I am teaching reported that they had been “forced into a sexual act against [their] will,” and an additional 33 of these students reported that a “UVA friend” has experienced such a violation. So, in one large class at the University of Virginia, fully 39 percent of the female students report having been directly affected by forcible sexual assault. To be sure, there are important debates about the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses, but UVA’s experience indicates that there are more cases of campus rape than many might expect,” – W. Bradford Wilcox, NRO, in a piece called “The Right And Campus Rape”.

The Damage Control Is Done, Ctd

A few readers offer their perspective on the awful situation at the University of Virginia:

I’m a former federal prosecutor and an alum of UVA.  I think those who advocate for the criminal justice system being used instead of having colleges investigate sexual assault are asking too much of the criminal justice system.  While the gang rape at the center of the Rolling Stone article would be a good case for full prosecutorial investigation, most sexual assaults occurring on most campuses would not.  Most “date rape” scenarios would never be prosecuted.  Without third-party witnesses or evidence of a “roofie” in the girl’s blood, prosecutors would generally not find enough evidence to indict.  The beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard is simply too high in those kinds of cases, and if we left them for the criminal justice system to handle, it would likely end up being an excuse for inaction.

Another goes out on a limb:

As a 2005 UVA grad and fraternity member, I am having a lot of trouble formulating any sort of reaction to this situation without coming off as some sort of rape-supporting monster, but I am very uncomfortable with the rush to judgement and the urge to punish the “bad guys” as quickly and severely as possible.

The Rolling Stone story made me feel sick to my stomach with anger when I started to read it. However, by the end of the article, I was surprised that they even agreed to publish it, considering the explosive implications of the allegations and the lack of proof or corroboration that the story was true. The victim deserves to be believed by her friends, support network, and any counselors or professionals whose job involves helping rape survivors, but a journalist is not supposed to be a credulous scribe for any allegation.

There are some people who will literally wish my violent death for saying this, but there is a chance that the accuser made it up or exaggerated.  It happens.  That doesn’t mean that we refuse to listen to the allegations and say terrible things about her, but it does mean that we as a society should still ask for proof.  The fraternity in question has been essentially destroyed as an institution because of this story, and if it’s true, they totally deserve it. But I would have been much more comfortable if the accuser had at least tried to press charges with the police or the university.

I also see many calls for collective punishment for all fraternities, regardless of their actual record of behavior.  This is simply unfair.  There are 30 frats at UVA, representing about 30% of the males in the student body.  It is absurd to claim that 30% of UVA men are rapists, rape supporters, or otherwise implicated in a “rape culture”.

If anyone had that sort of attitude about women, they wouldn’t even be invited back to a rush event at my house or many others.  We voluntarily worked with One in Four on educating every single pledge who came into our organization about consent, preventing assaults, and monitoring each other’s behavior to prevent bad situations.  We had multiple sober party monitors at every event with alcohol to go from room to room and make sure nothing bad was happening.  That included telling brothers not to bring stumbling drunk girls to their rooms.  It included helping find people at the party when their friends were looking for them.  It even included calling 911 to get an ambulance to our own doorstep to help a girl who was either drugged or drastically over-served at another house and then wandered to our house looking to drink more.