How Will Rolling Stone’s Apology Affect Victims?

Published: December 6, 2014

How Will Rolling Stone’s Apology Affect Victims?, Advocates for sexual-assault victims say Rolling Stone’s backpedaling from an explosive account of a gang rape at the University of Virginia doesn’t change the fact that rape is a problem on college campuses and must be confronted – even as some expressed concern that the magazine’s apology could discourage victims from coming forward.

Students, state government and education leaders, meanwhile, pledged to continue ongoing efforts to adequately respond to – and prevent – sexual assaults on campus.

Rolling Stone cast doubt on its story Friday of a gang rape by a woman it identified only as “Jackie,” saying it has since learned of “discrepancies” in her account.

“Our trust in her was misplaced,” the magazine’s editor, Will Dana, wrote in a signed apology.

The lengthy article published last month used Jackie’s case as an example of what it called a culture of sexual violence hiding in plain sight at U.Va.

Alison Kiss, executive director of the Clery Center for Security On Campus, said groups who work in the area will be concerned about a “chilling effect” Rolling Stone’s apology could have on sexual-assault victims reporting the crimes.

But she said the magazine’s announcement Friday “doesn’t change the facts: Sexual assault on campus is drastically underreported and false reports are incredibly rare.”

Emily Renda, U.Va.’s project coordinator for sexual misconduct, policy and prevention, and a member of the governor’s Task Force on Combating Campus Sexual Violence, said she didn’t question Jackie’s credibility because that wasn’t her role. Renda knows Jackie and also was interviewed for the Rolling Stone article.

“Rolling Stone played adjudicator, investigator and advocate – and did a slipshod job at that,” added Renda, a May graduate who said she was raped her freshman year at the school. “As a result Jackie suffers, the young men in Phi Kappa Psi suffered, and survivors everywhere can unfairly be called into question.”

Karen Chase, an English professor at U.Va. and Jackie’s faculty adviser, said that she doesn’t believe Jackie would knowingly say something that wasn’t true.

“Jackie is a lovely person who never sought and who thoroughly disdains publicity or sensation,” Chase said. “She spoke in good faith, and she deserves respect.”

She added that regardless of whether there were incorrect details in the student’s account, “We don’t need Jackie’s story to substantiate the problem of rape on this, or any other campus.”

Victoria Olwell, one of the organizers of a protest rally on campus after the magazine story came out, said that it was Rolling Stone’s credibility that was damaged.

“Actually, campus activists have been disputing one aspect of the story all along,” which was the magazine’s “depiction of them as quiescent,” she said. “I think that we’ve seen in the last two weeks how effective we can be in mobilizing students, staff, faculty, and the administration to prevent sexual assault and penalize it more severely.”

Rolling Stone said that because Jackie’s story was sensitive, the magazine honored her request not to contact the men who she claimed organized and participated in the attack. That prompted criticism from other news organizations.

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