Rape, by its definition is a violent act – a crime committed by a person or persons against a victim – defiling the victim against his/her will to such an extent the victim suffers physically and mentally for an undetermined period of time. This includes the potential trauma of reliving it over and over in his/her mind and possibly in a courtroom – if the victim is lucky enough to have his/her attacker caught and identified.
The only act possibly worse than the crime itself it when someone lies about a rape. It cheapens the legitimacy of actual victims who need medical attention and legal assistance to bring their attackers to justice. It also forever damages the reputation and life of the falsely accused.
These scenarios have been far too frequent over the past several years thanks to social media and a 24 hour news cycle.
In the most recent notorious case, irresponsible journalism is as much, if not more, to blame than the lying accuser. This, of course, is the fictitious story written by Rolling Stone magazine’s Sabrina Rubin Erdely for their November 2014 issue entitled “A Rape on Campus.” This fabricated 9,000 word story detailed the alleged victim, “Jackie” and a gang rape she accused seven members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at the University of Virginia of committing.
Rolling Stone magazine, founded by Jann Wenner, is not nearly the edgy periodical it once was dating back to its initial issue, November 9, 1967. It has become an irresponsible publication damaging the reputation of its profession, the accuser, as well as the accused.
While not as egregious as the Duke University rape case against three members of its men’s lacrosse team in 2006 insofar as the legal implications for the accused, there are still victims and perpetrators in the UVA case.
With the Duke case, a publication was not the responsible party for levying charges against the accused, the specific person who lied was. The names of the three athletes were dragged through the mud interminably and their lives became a waking nightmare until it was determined they were falsely accused. Nevertheless, their reputations in tatters, rebuilding them is a near impossibility – much akin to the strength of a newspaper’s retraction story buried on page 50 after a front page exposé already destroyed the accused.
In the case of Erdely’s overwhelmingly irresponsible work of fiction, she merely damaged her reputation, that of her employer, as well as that of the so-called accuser “Jackie.” Fortunately, the names of the accused never appeared in print as the accuser opted not to cooperate with police in Charlottesville. It begs the question as to why not. Wouldn’t any crime victim want justice? Wouldn’t any crime victim do whatever possible to assist law enforcement in the apprehension of the culprits? As that did not occur, the first red flag should have been raised by Rolling Stone or at least by Erdely.
Erdely must have had an agenda when concocting this story; an ax to grind; a desire to expose the rape culture that may or may not exist on college campuses. While there is no doubt most colleges and universities do all they can to sweep these crimes and others under the rug in an effort to keep the student population from fleeing the campus and keep new students matriculating, social media and legitimate news sources do what they can to prevent that from happening, and that’s a good thing.
Sadly, it took years to unearth the disgraceful sex crimes and molestations committed by former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. Fortunately he was stopped, but not before dozens of boys were victimized by this filthy pervert.
Make no mistake, this story by Erdely will give real rape victims pause to consider whether or not to report the crime committed against them for fear it will become the next UVA case. More victims will wonder if they will be taken seriously by police both on and off campus.
At the same time, more males on campus will fear they could be the next victimized, falsely accused patsy of an angry co-ed with issues, and this will only create a more tension-filled atmosphere on more and more campuses.
Because of Erdely’s apparent agenda, her’s was a single-sourced screed, confirming nothing with anyone else, getting no alleged accusers names – which turned out to be a good thing – see the Duke case, nor did Erdely ever confirm “Jackie’s” true identity. Little by little Erdely’s story unraveled until ultimately there was nothing left but a handful of thread – and egg on the faces of Erdely, her editor Sean Woods, who also did a woeful job in ensuring Erdely’s accuracy and bona fide sourcing, as well as Rolling Stone itself.
Sadly, both Erdely and Woods remain on the payroll at the magazine, when in reality they should be on the unemployment line. As a professional journalist and writer nothing less should be expected were the same unprofessional actions taken by this scribe. Not only is Erdely still employed at Rolling Stone, she has yet to offer an apology to the UVA Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.
Phi Kappa Psi intends to sue Rolling Stone and they should go after the irresponsible tome for all they can get, and then donate the proceeds to rape victims’ charities. Bankrupt the magazine to send a message to the rest of the journalistic community that this kind of irresponsible behavior is unacceptable.
Additionally, reverting back to referring to the lack of fraternity members’ names being published as a good thing, the names of accused rapists should not appear in print or on the air until a guilty verdict is rendered. Once the rapist label is hung on someone, guilty or not, that label will hang around the neck like an albatross in perpetuity, thus ruining a person’s life interminably.
Make no mistake, this call for protecting the identity of the accused should not be mistaken as a sign of being soft on rapists. In fact, I support the death penalty for rapists, as the crime they commit alters a person’s life irrevocably in ways unimaginable.
Rolling Stone should be ashamed for printing an unverified story that could have had farther reaching implications. It should also be ashamed for keeping Erdely and Woods on the payroll for their egregious irresponsibility of masquerading as journalists.
The continuing existence of a free press is one of the cornerstones of the foundation of the United States of America. Thomas Jefferson said it best: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
It is vital that responsible journalists, writers, scribes, and bloggers shine the light of day on the irresponsible of this profession and drive them from the industry. The readers – those who spend their hard earned money to freely choose which publications will earn their trust – must send a message to the irresponsible that their services are no longer required.
Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN.