Rolling Stone‘s story, “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, is truly horrific and reads like a work of dark fiction.
The story rocked the University of Virginia, where it allegedly occurred, as well as other campuses across the U.S.
It also lead to UVA suspending fraternities until January and a harsh media spotlight on the UVA campus, reports the Washington Post.
Last but not least, the “Rape on Campus” story also inspired a surprisingly late investigation by local police since the story’s alleged fraternity gang rape occurred in the Fall of 2012.
But now the veracity of the shocking “Rape On Campus” story is being questioned, or at least the journalistic integrity of the story and its author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely. Given the sordid history of rape in the U.S. (and elsewhere), with frightened, humiliated victims often being afraid to report the crime and even being blamed for its occurrence, the fact that other journalists are being forced to question Erdely’s story makes it a double-edged tragedy.
The Rolling Stone story starts off by introducing “Jackie,” a lovely, bright, enthusiastic freshman girl at the University of Virginia. She innocently but excitedly accepts a date with a popular frat boy, “Drew,” to his fraternity’s date party. Once in the frat house, Jackie struggles to fit in by sipping some spiked punch before fraternity date Drew escorts her to a dark upstairs room where several other frat boys are waiting and proceed to rape her for hours as some kind of fraternity rite of passage until she passes out. Upon awaking, Jackie is bloody and sick but able to flee the frat house to seek help from her friends. The friends, however, turn out to be self-absorbed heartless monsters that are more concerned about future relations within the Greek Community than seeking obviously needed medical help for Jackie, not to mention calling police to report the beyond-brutal crime.
So what are media pundits questioning about Erdely’s “Jackie” story and the way she reported it?
Primary concerns are journalistic issues like Erdely failing to mention whether or not she attempted to contact “Drew,” Jackie’s fraternity member-date that got her into the room where the alleged gang rape took place, reports the USA Today.
When asked by the Washington Post about such journalistic issues with the story, specifically if she tried to contact Drew or if she knew who the other alleged rapists were, Erdely shrugged the question off, saying she’d made an agreement with Jackie not to divulge those details.
Following that was an interview with Slate where Erdely seemed evasive about her investigation and lack of sources to back up the validity of her “Rape On Campus” story.
Erdely told Slate that she’d tried, but failed, to contact the alleged rapists in “multiple ways,” and that “(t)hey were kind of hard to get in touch with because (the fraternity’s) contact page was pretty outdated.”
Having Erdely’s back, however, is Sean Woods, the editor at Rolling Stone who edited the “Rape On Campus” story, saying that while Erdely didn’t actually speak with Drew or the other alleged rapists, they did “verify their existence.”
“I’m satisfied that these guys exist and are real. We knew who they were,” said editor Woods.
Rolling Stone also said in a statement that “(t)hrough our extensive reporting and fact-checking, we found Jackie to be entirely credible and courageous and we are proud to have given her disturbing story the attention it deserves.”
But questions about Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s Rolling Stone UVA gang rape story continue to elicit response.
Tim McGuire, who teaches journalism ethics at Arizona State, feels “uncomfortable” with some of the reporting aspects of the story, especially since “Drew” has reportedly, and widely, been seen on the UVA campus.
“That was a really bad deal… They needed to call Drew and see his reaction. I am ethically discomfited by this story. I wanted some confrontation with the accused. Somebody’s got to know who that is… The thing that is disappointing is when you have a story with such incredible power, you wish they’d really nailed it up.”
Regardless, Erdely says that Rolling Stone lawyers signed off on the story and that neither the University of Virginia, nor local law enforcement authorities, have called for any retractions.
And, in an email to the the Post, Erdely makes her thoughts clear and final, saying, “The gang-rape scene that leads the story is the alarming account that Jackie — a person whom I found to be credible — told to me, told her friends, and importantly, what she told the UVA administration, which chose not to act on her allegations in any way — i.e., the overarching point of the article. THAT is the story.”
[Image via Google Images]