The recent Rolling Stone article about a rape at the University of Virginia drew attention to a college campus plagued by sexual assault and its mishandling, as told through the lens of one young woman named Jackie’s alleged ritualized gang rape at the school's Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. This week, Rolling Stone released a statement saying, “In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie's account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced." Social media is exploding in response.
Following the initial publishing of the story, the Washington Post fronted its own investigation into what it points out was a failure in balanced reporting by Erdely, claiming she neglected to interview Jackie’s alleged attackers out of deference. When the Post found inconsistencies in Jackie’s recount of the event, media across the board jumped at the opportunity to discredit her trauma as highly dramatized or altogether fabricated. But as Jezebel’s Jia Tolentino points out, “the retraction discredits Rolling Stone, their reporting, and their editorial clarity above all.” That is a distinguishably different stance than shaming Jackie.
To be clear, Jackie’s questionable recollection of the details of her experience does not mean an assault didn’t take place, and that fault lies on the reporter rather than the victim. Some have claimed that Rolling Stone’s decision to disown the story could set back decades of progress for rape survivors, while others have taken to victim blaming, as we reported earlier. More upsetting is the reactions that have erupted across different social media platforms. A tipster screen grabbed some of the following responses to the news from anonymous gossip app Yik Yak's feed, and shared them with Jezebel:
The story also garnered the typical hateful vitriol that's par for the course on Twitter:
When considering all of the information and discrepancy surrounding this case, the Cut’s Kat Stoeffel puts it best when she writes that the story puts feminists in the awkward position of hoping that Jackie’s story of ritualized gang rape is true, while at the same time wishing it hadn’t happened, “Not because we want to confirm our biases about monstrous men, but because we’d hate to see confirmation for sexist biases about lying, attention-seeking women,” she says. “In other words, we’re backed into the corner of hoping someone was gang-raped on broken glass — and how can that possibly constitute a happy ending? If anything, we should hope that Jackie is lying. Then exactly zero lives will have been ruined in this story.”