Jackie Update

[Content Note: Rape culture; sexual violence.]

The Washington Post, which has been leading the charge on discrediting Jackie, the woman at the center of Rolling Stone's story about a gang rape at the University of Virginia, has published another piece asserting that Jackie is a liar, this time interviewing the three friends who Jackie called for help. Jackie recalls their being unsupportive. The friends insist that was not the case.

That a survivor and hir support network might have different recollections following a trauma does not necessarily mean that any of them are consciously lying. It is eminently possible that friends could voice concerns about the fallout of reporting that they don't remember as being callous (or don't remember at all), and that a survivor remembers clearly, differently.

Sometimes people who fail a survivor in the immediate aftermath of a sexual assault put a different spin on what happened not just because they don't want to admit they failed, but also because they don't want the survivor to feel like they didn't care. It's a weird but common instinct to try to protect someone from your own inadequacies after the fact, to insist you cared in that moment, and to excise from your narrative anything that might suggest you didn't. Because maybe you really did care—even if you still fucked up anyway.

I don't know if that's what happened here. I just want to underline that it's possible their recollections could differ for reasons other than anyone being a conscious, malicious liar.

Which also doesn't necessarily mean someone isn't lying. But, naturally, the media coverage reflexively presumes it must be Jackie.

In covering the WaPo's latest piece, Hanna Rosin at Slate writes:
Here's the most disturbing journalistic detail to emerge from the Post's reporting: In the Rolling Stone story, [its writer, Sabrina Rubin Erdely] says that she contacted Randall, but he declined to be interviewed, "citing his loyalty to his own frat." Randall told the Post he was never contacted by Erdely and would have been happy to be interviewed.

That could mean one of two things: Jackie could have given Erdely fake contact information for Randall and then posed as Randall herself, sending the reporter that email in which he supposedly declined to participate in the story. Erdely also could have lied about trying to contact Randall. Rolling Stone might have hinted at this possibility in its "Note to Our Readers" when it referred to a "friend of Jackie's (who we were told would not speak to Rolling Stone)" but later spoke to the Washington Post. That would take Erdely a big step beyond just being gullible and failing to check her facts, moving this piece in the direction of active wrongdoing.
Or, you know, Randall could be lying. I'm not saying he is; I'm just observing that Rosin doesn't even suggest that possibility. We are asked to consider that Jackie created a fake account, passed on that information to a reporter, and posed as Randall, but not to consider that Randall might be lying.

The people close to Jackie all agree that something happened to her, that she was assaulted. Discrepancies in the story may have a reasonable explanation: My pal Katie Klabusich wrote about her own experience to give much-needed context for discrepancies in victims' stories.
Despite having a public platform and a degree of credibility that a private citizen doesn't enjoy, I'm not a good victim. My story isn't airtight or unchanging. Even now, when I talk about what happened to me during my four-year abusive relationship, my story has alternate versions. Depending on how much I can handle on any given day, I will leave out details or add them back in. Depending on what aspect of my story can be helpful to another survivor or current news, I will emphasize that part of my attacker's behavior. Does this mean I am lying? Certainly not; it means I am a human being with a complicated psyche and lived experience.

I have softened, updated, edited, revised, reviewed, and reconfigured my rape story. The timeline is fuzzy around the edges, and if you asked me for specific details like exact date, what I was doing earlier in the day, what time the clock read, what either of us was wearing, or how much one or both of us had had to drink, well… I wouldn't have ever stood up to cross-examination.

The truth is, no one's life stands up to this kind of scrutiny — and most people don't have to tell a squeaky clean, totally together tale over and over within hours of a trauma while flinching through exams, bright lights, fears of expulsion, fears that loved ones will abandon them, fears that this all can and will happen again.

Because I didn't report, I didn't have to endure the process of retelling my story the way survivors who come forward in the hopes of prosecuting their attackers must. Most sexual assault survivors tell their story around a dozen times the first day they report — to the responding officer; to the triage clerk at the hospital; to the nurse at the hospital; to the doctor at the hospital; to their best friend who took them to the hospital; to their partner; to the detective. Having to tell your story dozens and dozens of times to dozens and dozens of people leads to discrepancies. Of course it does; how could it not?

But it is these common, understandable discrepancies that are being used to threaten a now famous-against-her-will young woman. Trauma victims often experience memory shifts. For some of us, leaving out details is a coping mechanism. For others, there is a fear of reprisal. Still others simply don't think what happened to them is everyone — or anyone — else's business.

...I have had to come to terms with my story gradually over the past five years. I didn't recognize it as rape for a long time, and processing that information took work and a lot of support. That happens with many survivors — whether they are attacked once or whether they are abused over time and work through the trauma later. There is no right way to deal with being raped; there is only the way you do it.
Rolling Stone's internal line on Jackie's story at the moment seems to be that she "embellished" it, for reasons unspecified. But Rosin's piece also includes this passage:
Erdely said she called several universities but kept hearing typical stories about sexual violence. Then she called some activists and heard this sensational story about Jackie and gang rape. Maybe the lesson there is, if one story sounds so outlandishly different than the dozens of others you've heard, you shouldn't decide to make it the centerpiece of your reporting. You should wonder why.
Or maybe the lesson is that, if it turns out Jackie's story was "embellished," she was coerced into doing it (like she was coerced to keep participating even after she wanted to drop out) by someone who decided to take a pass on stories that weren't big enough; take a pass on survivors who weren't hurt badly enough. But Jackie's story was a "blockbuster," a "massive scoop," an "intense story. It was, per Rosin, "sensational."

Those of us who work in anti-rape advocacy have known this to be true for a long time: Most media outlets don't want to cover rape at all, and, if they do, they want it to be something "new" and "explosive." Just regular old raped? BO-RING! Bring us the women who have been tortured, whose stories are so gruesome that people will have to pay attention. No one cares about some "typical story about sexual violence."

The media is convinced that Jackie "embellished" her story. The same media who take a pass on stories by women who were raped, but whose stories are so familiar and typical that they're not even worth reporting, thus ensuring that only extraordinary cases will get media attention. Okay, players: If you think Jackie embellished her story, do you have any responsibility there? Or nah?

The only way a young woman who was raped can get the world to give a shit about her is to have a "blockbuster" story to tell. If the media refuses to tell any of the stories of any of the women who are raped every day in heartbreakingly typical ways yielding stories the depressing mundanity of which don't make for explosive headlines, for what are we supposed to hope? That women get raped in ever more horrific ways, just so the media is willing to talk about rape at all?

Discrepancies are not embellishments. (And deliberate lies told in misdirection to coercive media aren't embellishments, either.) But if any member of a media who has described Jackie's story with exclamatory adjectives ever discovers a survivor who embellished a story to get people to give a shit, they need to take a long, lingering look in the mirror for a long overdue reckoning about the threshold they're creating for access to visibility and concern.

And, since everyone seems to have forgotten: For three years, long before Jackie's story was even published in Rolling Stone, the University of Virginia has been under federal investigation for Title IX violations specifically related to sexual violence. Three years. The investigation is open and ongoing.

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