UVA Students Stay Focused On Combating Sexual Violence, Not False Rape Allegations

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - DECEMBER 6: Kathryn Dockter, at third year student at the University of Virginia, walks past the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house on December 6, 2014 in Charlottesville, Virginia. On Friday, Rolling Stone magazine issued an apology for discrepencies that were published in an article regarding the alleged gang rape of a University of Virginia student by members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. (Photo by Jay Paul/Getty Images)
Source: Jay Paul/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The University of Virginia community, already tested a number of times this fall semester, endured another seismic shock on Friday when Rolling Stone partially retracted a damning feature about on-campus rape. The initial publication of the article and subsequent fallout has sparked discussion on not just sexual assault, but also on journalism ethics. But as national news outlets swarm the Charlottesville, Virginia, campus for the second time this semester, many UVA students are staying focused on the main issue at hand: combating sexual violence and improving sexual assault advocacy at the storied university. 

According to The Cavalier Daily, a group of UVA student leaders are speaking out as people across the nation continue to criticize the university, Rolling Stone and rape victim Jackie — the latter who's certainly dealing with the brunt of the massive fallout. Unlike Rolling Stone, who said its editors "misplaced their trust" in Jackie, or conservative pundit Jonah Goldberg, who publicly doubted Jackie's story, these student leaders say the issue is not whether the story is true or false. Instead, it's how do we aid sexual assault survivors going forward.

Brian Head, a senior and president of UVA's all-male sexual assault peer group One in Four, told The Cavalier Daily:

The inaccuracies of a Rolling Stone article that had a caricature depiction of our school doesn’t change the fact that we need to believe our friends if they come to you and say they’re been sexually assaulted. People were horrified by the reported reaction of Jackie’s friends in that article.

Sarah Surface, a junior who's a member of the school's Sexual Violence Prevention Coalition, added to the student newspaper that finger-combing through every detail in Jackie's story should not take away from the reality rape victims must live through:

Trauma does a lot of things to the brain and to memory. It is not uncommon for details to not 100 percent match up with what people believe to be a reasonable story. The thing is, most people don’t have to [be] hounded by reporters about that. This lack of recollection does not mean their stories are entirely false.

The Rolling Stone retraction, coupled with the new details surfacing in outlets such as The Washington Post, has also tested the student writers and editors of The Cavalier Daily, who are seemingly reporting non-stop on the evolving story. Lauren Horne, a freshman who writes a column for the student-run newspaper, criticized Rolling Stone's handling of its retraction and apology in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor:

If there’s anything wrong with Jackie’s story, fine. Sexual assault is still an issue, and it’s still an issue here. But they completely took the blame off of themselves, and put it on Jackie. It says in the statement that our trust in her was misplaced, but you didn’t do your job.

University officials are also standing firm in their newfound commitment to combating on-campus sexual assault and reforming their reporting polices. On Friday, UVA President Teresa Sullivan released a statement responding to the Rolling Stone retraction, saying the "news must not alter" the school's focus.

Sullivan said:

The University remains first and foremost concerned with the care and support of our students and, especially, any survivor of sexual assault. Our students, their safety, and their well-being, remain our top priority. ... We will continue to take a hard look at our practices, policies and procedures, and continue to dedicate ourselves to becoming a model institution in our educational programming, in the character of our student culture, and in our care for those who are victims.

Meanwhile, UVA's Phi Kappa Psi chapter, which was named in the Rolling Stone feature as the fraternity house where the alleged assault took place, denied the gang-rape accusation in a press statement released on Friday. The fraternity said it did not hold a registered party the night Jackie alleged the rape occurred — though it's still possible there was an unregistered party that night — and that sexual assault is not "part of our pledging or initiation process."


Images: Getty Images (3)

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