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Finding solid ground

The retraction of Rolling Stone’s story does not undo the need for policy and cultural change

The University has confronted an identity crisis of sorts in the past few weeks, wondering how such a horrendous crime as described in Rolling Stone could occur in our community. We now face more questions than answers in an even more unsettling development. Now that Rolling Stone has retracted their support of an article which left the sanctity of the University community in ruins, how do we continue? The report shook our trust in the administration. Now new information shatters our trust in the report. How do we find a solid ground to stand on?

Our understanding of this specific case — Jackie’s — has changed. Some details reported in Rolling Stone’s article have been disputed, and some of us may be unsure whom we should believe. The advocacy community has said repeatedly — “believe survivors” — that is what you can do to help solve this problem at our university. Some may now wonder how we can continue to believe, when some facts about the case are in question.

Part of the answer is to understand trauma. Many have come to Jackie’s defense, arguing that because traumatic memories are often fragmented, some inconsistencies in survivors’ stories do not mean they are lying. There is a big difference between fact-checking and rape-denial. Kirsten Lombardi of the Center for Public Integrity, who has significant experience reporting on college rape cases, said rigorously checking a survivor’s story does not mean she doesn’t believe them. The fact-checking and balancing process only makes the story stronger.

All parties should get a chance for their stories to be heard — that is a principle of good journalism, as it is a principle of the justice system. And those systems need to be fair for everyone, if we are ever going to say we’ve uncovered what is truly wrong, and reached a solution that is truly right. Because Rolling Stone did not thoroughly fact-check the story, the reputation of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity has been damaged by a case which is unproven, and all trauma survivors will now more likely face accusations that their claims are false.

Rolling Stone’s exploitation of a trauma survivor for the sake of a top headline rather than the sake of the truth has undermined our confidence in the cultural shift we were hoping for. We want to live in a world where rape survivors are confident enough to speak up — to the police, to their universities, to the media — when they have been wrongly treated. We don’t want to live in a world where rape survivors are resistant to coming forward because they fear they will be dismissed. Because if they never come forward, we never even have a chance to investigate and punish the perpetrators who have wronged them, and who have wronged our community.

Though the facts of Jackie’s story are uncertain at this point, there are several facts about the larger issue which we have long known are true. Twenty five percent of college women are sexual assault survivors. Fewer than 5 percent of college women who are raped report to law enforcement. Fraternity men are three times as likely to commit rape as non-fraternity men. All these statistics have not changed — with the release of the Rolling Stone article or the retraction of it. And all of these statistics still must change.

The University community must not let the Rolling Stone fiasco disrupt the momentum we need to change these statistics. We still stand by all of the arguments we have made thus far on the issue of sexual violence at the University. We still need individual change in addition to institutional change. And we must hold onto the hope that we can accomplish both.

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