UVA Scandal and It’s Backfire

By: Olivia Rivers, E23 Reporter

Sabrina Rubin Erderly who according to her website, sabrinaerderly.com, is an “award-winning feature writer and investigative journalist” recently had her article “A Rape on Campus” published in Rolling Stone Magazine. This veteran writer with over 10 years of experience in the field of journalism has had several other articles published in Rolling Stone Magazine, including: “The Rape of Petty Officer Blumer” in Rolling Stone’s February 2013 edition and “The Catholic Church’s Secret Sex-Crime Files” in Rolling Stone’s September 2011 Edition.

What all of these stories have in common is that Erderly’s undeniably talented writing ability, paired with topics on sensitive issues, made for persuasive narratives which evoked an emotional reaction from readers. In the case of Erderly’s article “A Rape on Campus” published just last month, It proved challenging to not have an emotional reaction to the focus of the article, Jackie’s, recount of a gang rape that she alleges took place at a frat party at the University of Virginia in 2012.

Erderly did not seem to leave any details out, writing “She [Jackie] remembers every moment of the next three hours of agony, during which, she says, seven men took turns raping her, while two more – her date, Drew, and another man – gave instruction and encouragement…As the last man sank onto her, Jackie was startled to recognize him…” Erderly went on to write “Someone handed her classmate a beer bottle. Jackie stared at the young man, silently begging him not to go through with it. And as he shoved the bottle into her, Jackie fell into a stupor, mentally untethering from the brutal tableau, her mind leaving behind the bleeding body under assault on the floor.”

The article goes on the tell the struggles Jackie dealt with after that night, such as having to deal with friends convincing her that if she made her assault known she’d be “…the girl who cried rape”. According to the article, “One in five women is sexually assaulted in college, though only about 12 percent report it to police.” Another, bigger issue Jackie had to face was a school administration who did not seem to want to do anything about her predicament for fear of damaging the school’s reputation. Erderly, in the article addresses the issue of a history of sexual assault on college campuses and administrations unwillingness to deal with them.

One difference between “A Rape on Campus” and some of the other stories Erderly wrote about, is the continuous backlash the article is receiving. Though when reading the article one may have the impression that the very descriptive piece must be one-hundred percent true, Erderly failed to get any other account of events besides Jackie’s, which is the main reason news sources around the globe are calling this story, debatable.

According to rollingstone.com “Because of the sensitive nature of Jackie’s story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her.” After a plethora of news sources produced articles, such as the Washington Post’s article “How Rolling Stone failed in its story of alleged rape at the University of Virginia”, challenging the legitimacy of Jackie’s account and uncovering new information which contradicted several key parts of Jackie’s retelling of events, such as there being a party at the Phi Kappa Psi frat house the night she alleged she was attacked and her condition and appearance hours after she claims she was raped, Rolling Stone Magazine’s Managing Editor Will Dana released several statements. In the most recent statement Rolling Stone acknowledges their faults and the fact that some details in the articled have been proved untrue. (You can read the full statement here, http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2014/12/07/after-apology-rolling-stone-changes-its-story-once-more/)

Despite the fact that Ederly may have approached the story of an alleged rape on UVA’s campus the wrong way, that shouldn’t draw attention away from the fact that sexual assaults on college campuses is still an issue to be dealt with. Even right here on MU’s campus we’ve heard tales and reports of sexual violence taking place, even as recently as this semester. To think, only twelve percent of sexual assault victims report the horrific crime to police, what can we as a campus and nation do to change that startling statistic? Instead of focusing on Rolling Stone’s seemingly huge debacle, let’s focus on the greater issue at hand, eliminating sexual violence on campus grounds.