No doubt many of you have been following the idiotic kerfuffle over the Rolling Stone UVA campus rape story and the way that a lack of fact-checking has allowed rape apologists to go bananas in trying to push the long-discredited idea that women routinely make up rape accusations, a belief based on the bigoted stereotype that women are inherently vindictive/crazy. Rape apologists have been crowing about how some inconsistencies in one of the rape stories collected by Sabrina Rubin Erdely means this is a “hoax”, even though the story was never even really about the veracity of the story told by a woman known as “Jackie”. I address that issue on this week’s RH Reality Check podcast, but the TLDR; version is this: Erdely was castigating UVA for not investigating rape claims. This criticism stands regardless of the veracity of any particular claim. Indeed, one reason to investigate rape claims is to suss out the very rare cases where they are false. The people who want to discourage investigating rape claims are so afraid that guilty people will get caught that they’re actively discouraging a system that could exonerate the innocent.
But the important issues are, of course, getting completely washed out in the noise over this story, so I think it’s important here to clarify that, as I’m writing this, there is still no real evidence for the accusation that Jackie is lying. (Indeed, it’s interesting how the same people who yell “innocent until proven guilty” the second you mention a rape accusation in the media have no problem deciding someone is guilty of lying with absolutely no evidence to support that claim.) It’s possible that she’s lying. It’s also possible—and frankly, at this point, far more likely—that she is basically telling the truth but got some details wrong, because duh, most people do not have a photographic memory. The Washington Post fact-check of the article verifies that yes, Jackie was telling her friends she was assaulted from the beginning, even though the details changed over time. (As they do with any story you repeat frequently. Memory is shitty that way, sorry.) Jackie’s roommate has come forward and said it happened.
The discrepancy basically comes down to this, as laid out by the Rolling Stone:
In the face of new information reported by the Washington Post and other news outlets, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account. The fraternity has issued a formal statement denying the assault and asserting that there was no “date function or formal event” on the night in question. Jackie herself is now unsure if the man she says lured her into the room where the rape occurred, identified in the story, as “Drew,” was a Phi Psi brother. According to the Washington Post, “Drew” actually belongs to a different fraternity and when contacted by the paper, he denied knowing Jackie. Jackie told Rolling Stone that after she was assaulted, she ran into “Drew” at a UVA pool where they both worked as lifeguards. In its statement, the Phi Psi says none of its members worked at the pool in the fall of 2012. A friend of Jackie’s (who we were told would not speak to Rolling Stone) told the Washington Post that he found Jackie that night a mile from the school’s fraternities. She did not appear to be “physically injured at the time” but was shaken. She told him that that she had been forced to have oral sex with a group of men at a fraternity party, but he does not remember her identifying a specific house. Other friends of Jackie’s told the Washington Post that they now have doubts about her narrative, but Jackie told the Washington Post that she firmly stands by the account she gave to Erdely.
The discrepancies, as detailed at the Rolling Stone as I write this, come down to this: The man that Jackie describes, named “Drew” in the story, is a real person on campus. He just happens to belong to another fraternity on campus. Which means that, while there’s a chance she’s lying, there’s also a very big and very real chance that this all happened and she just forgot what frat house it was at. If so, this is not even remotely surprising. All those frat houses look alike. When you’re taken to a place by a friend or a date, it’s often hard to remember exactly where it was. (I’ve been to some friends’ houses 5 or 6 times before I remembered exactly where it was without the address.) There’s a strong possibility that Jackie only landed on Phi Kappa Psi as the location later, but never actually remembered. Filling in details of your memories with information you get after the fact comports perfectly well with what we know about how people remember generally.
To anyone who denies this and wants to claim that people’s memories are photo perfect and that anyone who misremembers stuff is a liar, I say to you go ahead and reconstruct the last dinner conversation you had, word for word, and get back to me.
So while there’s a possibility that all these vicious attacks—which includes misogynists now doxxing Jackie—are happening to a liar who brought this on herself.
There’s also a possibility, a much stronger one with the information we have right at this moment, that misogynists are ganging up on a rape victim who made the mistake of having an imperfect memory, a “mistake” literally 100% of people make on a daily basis. If this is so, then all the people ganging up on Jackie are re-traumatizing a rape victim, one who is already receiving treatment for mental health problems and who could be in very serious danger because of all this. Her attackers don’t really seem to care if this is the case, either. Is it that they haven’t really thought this through? Or is it that they want to make the price of speaking out about rape so high that women refuse to do it?
The Rolling Stone really screwed up giving rape denialists a toehold here, absolutely. But it’s also important to hold rape denialists directly accountable for their gleeful attacks on a woman who they have no actual evidence is lying.