Survivors React To Rolling Stone‘s UVA Retraction

Update: Sunday, December 7, 6 p.m.: Rolling Stone has updated their retraction, alleviating some of the victim-blaming in the original version. The line, “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" has been removed. In it place, the section now reads, “These mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie.”
In November, Rolling Stone published a bombshell story about sexual assault on the campus of the University of Virginia. The story's main subject, Jackie, describes a horrific gang rape at a Phi Kappa Psi frat party; reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely goes on to illustrate "the university's failure to respond to this alleged assault — and the school's troubling history of indifference to many other instances of alleged sexual assaults." It's a harrowing feature that sparked debate about what part the Greek system plays in sexual attacks on campuses, how colleges deal with rape accusations, and the ongoing problem of silencing survivors of sexual assault.
But, yesterday, Rolling Stone's Will Dana issued a partial retraction to the story that questions the veracity of Jackie's statements. Here's an excerpt:
"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. In the months Erdely spent reporting the story, Jackie neither said nor did anything that made Erdely, or Rolling Stone's editors and fact-checkers, question Jackie's credibility. Her friends and rape activists on campus strongly supported Jackie's account. She had spoken of the assault in campus forums. We reached out to both the local branch and the national leadership of the fraternity where Jackie said she was attacked. They responded that they couldn't confirm or deny her story but had concerns about the evidence.
"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. We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story."
Whatever happened behind the scenes at Rolling Stone, the retraction only reinforces the victim-blaming that rape survivors endure. Now, many are speaking out.

Stop Blaming Victims
Rebecca Traister writes in The New Republic, "It's a massive leap in logic to move from a reasonable journalistic critique of Erdely's reporting and disclosure practices to writing...'I'm not convinced that this gang rape actually happened.' It is symptomatic of exactly the patterns of incredulity and easy dismissal of rape accusations that keep many assaulted women and men from ever bringing their stories to authorities or to the public."

PTSD Can't Be Ignored
Over at Yahoo, Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy wonders if PTSD affected Jackie's memory of the assault, the details of which are being called into question. Psychology professor Art Markman told the reporter, "A natural response to a traumatic event is to disengage in ways that can make it hard to remember what you saw, heard, and felt." Uffalussy also talked to RAINN's Jennifer Marsh about the effect of PTSD on memory.

Data Cannot Be Denied
Mother Jones posted chilling stats about rape on college campuses under the headline, Don't Let the Rolling Stone Controversy Distract You From the Campus Rape Epidemic. That speaks for itself.

A System Designed To Fail
Meanwhile, assault survivors have spoken up about their own experiences when it comes to reporting incidents on school campuses and/or the police. Over at BuzzFeed, Jes Skolnik wrote about her college's reaction to her rape, as well as reporting a different assault to her local police as a preteen. "I did everything you were supposed to do, twice, and the system failed me in two separate spheres — private (collegiate) and public (criminal/political). It took a while for me to understand that it hadn’t failed because of me, but because it was set up to fail people like me."

The Pressure To Present Correctly
Activist Jade Reindl also spoke up about her experience. "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."

No One Believed It 30 Years Ago
In Time, Liz Seccuro wrote about being interviewed by Erdely for the Rolling Stone article about being gang raped at the very same UVA frat house in 1984, and her own fears about the repercussions of reporting her assault. "When I went to the dean of students at that time, Robert Canevari, I was covered in bruises, still bloodied, and had broken bones. He sat at his big desk across from me and suggested I was a liar and had mental problems for reporting my rape."


More from Politics

R29 Original Series