Rolling Stone retraction must not weaken victim credibility

Hayley Dott, Contributing Writer

The following is an opinion piece, and does not reflect the views of the Tulane Hullabaloo.

Rolling Stone retracted its controversial article “A Rape On Campus” by Sabrina Erdely on April 5. This article told the story of a college student identified as “Jackie” and her gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house. The retraction came after a thorough investigation into the journalistic integrity of the story spearheaded by Steve Coll, dean of the Colombia School of Journalism. Coll and his team’s conclusion that the article failed to adequately fact-check and find corroborating evidence not only paints sexual assault survivors in a bad light, but discredits victims in the face of their peers and discourages them from coming forward.

The retraction of Erderly’s article has been met with a new wave of victim-shaming. Kevin Williamson of the National Review called current events a fictitious campus-rape epidemic that likened sexual assault accusations to the Salem Witch Trials. Both Phi Kappa Psi’s lawsuit against the publication and an interview with Jackie’s friends, Alex Stock and Ryan Duffin, cite inconsistencies with Jackie’s story. These only reinforce the notion that Jackie, and by extension, sexual assault victims, are unstable and unbelievable.

In light of Rolling Stone’s error, however, it is important to remember the words they committed were just that, an error. Erdely’s mistake cannot and should not silence victims or bring about skepticism toward them. In response to these reactions, myths and assumptions associated with sexual assault should be debunked.

One in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are sexually assaulted during the course of a college career, according to a National Institute of Justice statistic from 2007. Less than half of those men and women were drinking. It is estimated that for every 1,000 students attending a college, 35 of them will be assaulted each year. If applied to Tulane’s undergraduate population, that would add up to around 292 victims just for the 2014 to 2015 school year. In addition, at colleges with medium and high binge drinking rates, the chance that a woman is raped while intoxicated increases by 150 percent. Most importantly, less than five percent of attempted or completed rapes are reported to police each year, and of this percentage, approximately only two percent are falsely reported.

In the wake of similar, recent stories like Kappa Delta Rho’s compromising Facebook page at Penn State or Emma Sulkowicz’s mattress at Columbia University, it is important to remember that victims exist across college campuses. Society should not believe the outcomes of the slandered Duke lacrosse team or UVA’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity are the norm. They are the exception.

As a community, Tulane has a responsibility to students of all genders to respect not only bodily integrity, but also personal experiences. Resources like The Well, Tulane’s Counseling and Psychological Services and the Office of Violence Prevention and Support Services can provide support survivors need — but it is important that they know they have the backing of their peers to feel safe, unashamed and supported if they choose to report the assault.

Hayley Dott is a Freshman is a freshman at Newcomb-Tulane College. She can be reached at [email protected].

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