Friday, December 5, 2014

On the Developing Implosion Controversy over the Rolling Stone UVA-Rape Story

UPDATED to reflect controversy/rather than implicate falseness of the statements. The points of the post are relevant whether the allegations are true or not.

Journalism is hard.

I've never been a reporter, so I'll leave the professionals and media critics to talk about the ethical and professional lapses at Rolling Stone that led to what appears to be exaggerated, if not flat-out false gang rape allegations publishing a piece that shook the University of Virginia.

But I do know about rape victims. I've been trusted by several of my female friends with the information that they have been raped at some point in their lives. I can't explain how it feels to hear that someone you care about has been raped. As far as I know, only one of my friends ever went to the police about it.

I never judge the woman for making the decision not to press charges, because going through that process can be a trauma on top of the trauma of being raped. Some people think it's an ethical duty to keep that person from raping again, but I'm always much more concerned with the immediacy of my friend's emotional well-being. Granted, it was usually well after the fact that I was told, but it is nevertheless something I do not feel qualified to pass judgment on.

And yes, this is something that has occurred enough times in my life that I can use the term "usually." This sickening fact is why I have no patience for people who claim that "rape culture" doesn't exist.

I have also had the unfortunate experience of hearing false rape claims.

Years ago, two friends and I were standing outside of a bar in Chinatown here in DC. We hear a woman yelling, mostly indistinct. She sounds angry, but it's nighttime in Chinatown, it's not particularly unusual. Then she yells "RAPE!"

One of my friends, J--who takes his role as a responsible citizen more seriously than most people I know--immediately runs to her aid. My other friend, G, and I look at each other, utter some obscenities, take a deep breath, and run after our friend because we have his back.

We get to this screaming woman yelling rape as she's a passenger in a parked car. Someone has already called 911, a bystander, if I recall correctly.

J tries to calm her down, G and I confront the guy in the drivers seat and ask him what the hell was going on. He tries to run away, but we corner him. 

He explains to us that he was breaking up with her and she was upset and wouldn't get out of the car. We were hostile and skeptical at first, but he was pretty convincing. (After all, once we started running, we had to prepare for the prospect of violence, so this wasn't the most cordial introduction.)

Moreover, he says works for a prominent [then-]US senator and can't be dealing with police. We tell him that A) he needs to stick around, if for no other reason than they have his car it'll look awful to flee and B) this woman needs to come clean about what happened.

We go back to ask her what happened, and she admitted that she just wanted to put pressure on him because she loved him.  G asked her why she made that up. She then starts cussing him out and calling him "nigger" and I pull him away.

Then the police show up. Like a dozen of them.

We give our statements and say that she yelled rape and we came running (thanks to J) and that she admitted to making it up because she was upset, in addition to the verbal abuse of G. We were talking to a male officer about what happened and the look on his face was like "Oh great, another one." Two female officers a few feet away but within earshot looked very angry, as well they should have been.

We were all angry. And I'm angry now.

For every case like that awful woman in Chinatown, there are countless women who don't say anything for fear of ruining their own lives--risking so much without any guarantee of a conviction. This UVA case, if it falls apart as the some reports indicate is possible, could be another Tawana Brawley or Duke lacrosse case--unverified stories that opportunists (or perhaps in the case of this writer, someone too trusting) exploited for their own careers. These few instances of false claims will likely dissuade more victims from coming forward and undermine the legitimate efforts to curb rape and bring its perpetrators to justice.

If innocent, the men accused at UVA ought to be fully and publicly exonerated, full stop. But it is important to believe women if and when they tell you they've been raped. The overwhelming majority of women don't make that stuff up, and they need support if they ask for it.

It is almost a mathematical certainty that you know a woman that has been raped. It may have happened before they met you, or since you've known them. That you may not know speaks not only to what they suffered, but the stigma, guilt, and shame that accompanies such an intimate and scarring violation.

Rape is far too common in this country, and it is an acute problem on college campuses. Collectively, we need to take it more seriously, and as individuals, we need to believe and support the women who come forward.

bellum medicamenti delenda est