In the aftermath of Sunday's shattering Rolling Stone UVA retraction, headlines were splattered with gory details and taglines insinuating a lack of journalistic integrity, editorial subterfuge, and flawed reporting all-around. But in all the chaos, one voice was distinctly muffled or pushed aside for more scintillating dialogue and buried underneath mounds of talking points — that of the young woman to whom the media owed so much credit for legitimately questioning Rolling Stone's UVA account in the first place: Alex Pinkleton, sexual assault advocate and one of the few names you should really remember in all of the fallout. So, who is she?
For anyone unfamiliar with the fabled Rolling Stone account, the name might not ring a bell — unsurprising, as the young advocate and her fellow crusaders are still pushing to get their respective campaigns for campus sexual assault victims to a national stage. But Pinkleton isn't just a footnote in the now-questionable story — she's the face of a movement quick to defend women and men on campuses worldwide against finger-pointing and accusations of "false rape." With her campaigns One Less and One in Four garnering attention and countering the polarizing effect of discussing campus sexual assault, Pinkleton's work and courageous outlook are more important than the media feeding frenzy surrounding the details of the Rolling Stone misstep.
Pinkleton's own history proves she understands the ins and outs of the current campus rape discussion better than anyone. In a discussion with CBS affiliate WTVR last November, Pinkleton recalled her own feelings after she was sexually assaulted by a classmate in 2013.
"Just his presence [on campus] was pretty threatening," she said of her attacker, whom she claimed had waited until she had blacked out after a night of drinking to assault her. "I was blacking out or in a state of black out. When I came to consciousness there was a naked stranger on top of me." Pinkleton admitted that she had hesitated going to the police because she believed at the time that it was her fault. "I still felt like ... I shouldn’t have been drinking that much," she recalled.
Eventually, Pinkleton decided to take her story to UVA, which she said addressed the case by holding an "informal trial" and forcing her alleged attacker to take classes on masculinity and sexual violence. (UVA has said it's reforming the system by which students report sexual assault. Bustle has reached out to UVA for confirmation.) The courageous college student explained that the stigma of false allegation and the humiliation of having to relive an attack often kept victims like herself from taking their stories to the police.
"No one I've talked to has wanted to go to criminal trial, mainly because lack of evidence, the shame, and having to go through that in front of people in law enforcement," she said.
After finding her footing again, Pinkleton started the One Less campaign, which according to its official Facebook page, is "committed to educating students on sexual and domestic violence and empowering survivors." Pinkleton has been a vocal proponent of destigmatizing the rape-reporting process ever since.
But the UVA student knows it won't be an easy battle: In a sit-down with Bustle back in January, Pinkleton pointed to the flawed system that hampers many sexual assault cases as a key reason so many young men and women hesitate to report their stories to authorities.
How do you prove [rapists] guilty? People see you at a party. They might see you interacting with this person in a nice way. And then the assault happens in a closed room. No one’s around. No witnesses. Maybe you get a rape kit. Hardly ever are there signs of bruising. And [when there are] it can be attributed to rough sex.
The systematic shutdown of prolific cases like the now-infamous Rolling Stone witness Jackie often does nothing to help the situation. In a statement Monday on the One Less Facebook page, Pinkleton and her peers wrote:
It is misleading that Rolling Stone chose one extreme case to represent college sexual assault, when, in reality, we know that sexual assault presents itself through a range of experiences.
We are fearful that hostile reactions to the fallout of the Rolling Stone article will leave many survivors of violence feeling unsupported and deterred from seeking resources. Though these voices are loud, there are many more that are here for [them].
Since late 2014, Pinkleton has been working hard to counter the negative torrent of derogatory comments plaguing the ranks of sexual assault survivors (such as this gem from antagonistic, right-wing showboat Ann Coulter).
"I don't think the [Columbia Journalism School's] review can help the damage that was done to Jackie and I think it's been an unfortunate situation and something that should not have been published," said Pinkleton in an interview with ABC News on Monday, defending the many victims of sexual assault whose stories would now likely undergo massive scrutiny despite their truthfulness in reporting.
For her part, the UVA student is forging ahead with her advocacy and disputing the claims that one potentially false report represents the majority. "I almost feel like [Rolling Stone is] taking the criticism and saying 'ok we'll do better next time,'" Pinkleton told local NBC affiliate WVIR on Monday. "Well, I think the public ... would like to see tangibly how [they're] going to avoid these mistakes in the future because you really did cause a lot of pain to our community."
Pinkleton told Bustle on Monday that the most important thing students and advocates could do to counter the negativity was to "affirm someone's story" and "provide resources to put them in contact with the help they may need":
Our advocacy has never been based off of a single story of assault. We have actively worked to educate our peers about sexual assault, prevention of the issue, and how they can support someone who discloses that they have been assaulted.
... Our hope is that journalists use this tragic fallout as an example of how not to deal with a survivor's story. [They] must protect the survivor by verifying their story instead of breaching journalistic ethics in the hopes of profiting from a sensationalist tale.
Images: CBS/YouTube screenshot (2); Getty Images (1)