In November 2014, The Rolling Stone published a detailed feature called "A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA." In it, an undergraduate from the University of Virginia named Jackie talked about being sexually assaulted in a fraternity house by multiple fraternity brothers and discussed the university's lack of action on her behalf when she came forward about her experience.
Shortly after this feature was published, The Rolling Stone published a follow-up note to its readers. This note explains that in light of the sensitive nature of the story at hand, they decided to honor Jackie's request "not to contact the man who she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men who she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her."
Though it mentions that Jackie has done nothing to make the author of the feature nor the editors or fact-checkers at The Rolling Stone question her credibility, the note goes on to announce that "there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie's account." It mentions that the fraternity in question claims not to have hosted a party on the date that Jackie references and that the fraternity claims none of its members work at the university pool, where Jackie says that she worked with her assailant as a lifeguard.
So many were quick to accept the fraternity's statement and the discrepancies that they cited, despite the friends and witnesses who saw a visibly shaken Jackie the night of the alleged assault. Numerous people and media sources were immediately ready to believe that this was just a girl-who-cried-wolf situation instead of accepting the brutal reality that rape culture lives on so many college campuses across our nation.
Recently, the police department in Charlottesville, Virginia (the law enforcement in charge of this case) announced that they will be dropping the UVA rape investigation. The police were sure to mention, however, that just because they were unable to find sufficient evidence "doesn't mean something terrible didn't happen," and that police were "simply unable to reach a definitive conclusion."
The Rolling Stone retracted the article, citing institutional failures and poor journalistic practices as the basis for the decision.
This situation could lead to so many terrifying consequences. So many Americans skim past the headlines noting a lack of substantial evidence and promptly assume that Jackie falsified the entire experience. They write her off as a liar—and in the process, a mental shift brings them to the all-too-incorrect belief that other women brave enough to come forward and report their sexual assault to the authorities are liars, too.
That's simply not true. The AP writes that according to the most recent FBI reports, "only 2 percent to 8 percent of sexual assault reports turn out to be false—a statistic that End Rape On Campus co-founder Annie Clark said is in line with other crimes." The Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice recently reported that 80 percent of rapes and sexual assaults that occur on college campuses are never reported to the police.
Basically, rape happens. Whether or not it happened to Jackie, sexual assault is a huge problem on campuses across the nation, and as CNN puts it, "it would be a terrible and infuriating mistake to use the confusion around Jackie's story as a convenient way to discount this reality."
"One false report should not diminish the seriousness with which we take on the challenge of sexual assault on campus," says Daniel Carter, the director of 32 National Campus Safety Initiative and a supporter of sexual assault awareness for more than 20 years.
This singular case should not shape your opinions about the women who come forward to report sexual assault cases in the future. All that this victim-blaming mentality will do is encourage even fewer women to report their assault to the authorities, when already 68 percent of sexual assaults are never reported to the police and 98 percent of rapists never spend a day in jail.
It is imperative to remember how many schools are currently under investigation for mishandling sexual assault cases, how many students are suffering after being violated in such an intimate and traumatizing way, and how many whose stories have not yet been heard. Don't let one story shape your perception of all survivors' stories. There are so many of them out there, and they deserve to live in a supportive environment where people will listen to them and believe them. Be one of those people.