Sensational allegations about a supposed rape culture at the University of Virginia that appeared in a Rolling Stone article unquestionably did great damage to the university. Now Rolling Stone is retracting the main theme, and more or less apologizing, as the facts about “Jackie”–a woman who said she was gang raped for three hours at a fraternity house–are dissolving. Students are not amused. They feel correctly that the student body has been slandered.
But that’s the students; what about the Administrators, especially UVA President Teresa Sullivan? So far, Dr. Sullivan says only that the story causes her to remain “more focused than ever” on the issue of rape on campus. Really? The school administration reacted with severity to the first story from Rolling Stone, suspending the fraternity in question and all others until January 9. There was no sense that it was interested in fair play or conventional justice. It apparently made no effort to ascertain the truth before it acted.
Rape is terrible. It’s also true that the definition of rape includes non-consenual sex. That being the situation, media-driven rape stories like that of Rolling Stone–and most likely, Lena Dunham’s best-selling accounts of her rape experience at Oberlin, that are now being deconstructed by Breitbart–do not help combat rape. They distort the issue. By failing to take charges seriously enough to investigate them as a regular crime–with a police follow up, instead of a campus kangaroo court–universities make the problem of genuine rapes more problematic.
At this point, it is not only Rolling Stone and its reporter who over-reached, but the UVA President. It will be interesting to see how alumni and trustees respond. Students and UVA itself have been damaged. So have victims of rape. Who will hold those responsible accountable?