By Phil Brown
The lurid bombshell published in the Rolling Stone last year alleging a rape that occurred two years previously on the University of Virginia campus made size-able waves when it was revealed the Rolling Stone editorial staff had failed to dis-cover and account for several discrepancies between the story they reported on and various details uncovered after its publication.
“A Rape on Campus”, which described a vicious gang-rape as a fraternity ritual, was first and foremost a journalistic failure, littered with errors more befitting a sensationalist tabloid than the trusted pop-culture biweekly magazine. And the author, Sabrina Erdely, should have certainly been expected to do better, having written about rape and abuse for years under the banner of multiple national publications.
While the journalism industry and public was quick to jump on the article as a journalistic failure,
negative opinion towards the story has unfortunately spilled over onto the victim’s story. The thorough repudiation of the article gave the alleged attackers, and the UVA administrators, an opportunity to turn the tables on the victim, portraying themselves as victims in a series of lawsuits against the magazine and author.
Whatever chance the victim had of a fair hearing was destroyed by lazy, sensationalist journalism. In her apology for the story, Erderly stated “I hope that my mistakes in reporting this story do not silence the voices of victims that need to be heard.” But it appears the dam-age has already been done, and is poised to become more permanent.
The sentiments provoked by the story seem to have given rise to another consequence. The Safe Campus Act, introduced earlier this year by Arizona Congressman Matt Salmon, seems to be in direct response to the demise of the Rolling Stone story.
“The Safe Campus Act is a much-needed piece of legislation to protect the fundamental due process rights of all parties in campus sexual assault cases. It protects the rights of student organizations and encourages institutions to offer access to sexual assault prevention programs, further benefitting the student population.” said Rep. Salmon as he introduced the bill.
But while due process is certainly a laudable pursuit, the bill is mis-guided in that it addresses an inequality that doesn’t exist. All due process provisions that the bill provides for accused rapists are in addition to the due process of law, and deal with the actions of university administration.
For example, the main points of contention with the bill are to prohibit the university from taking action against an accused entity before reporting to the police, restricting the university’s ability to sanction individuals accused, and specifically to limit their ability to sanction “student organizations”, a clear provision for fraternities.
So the bill’s premise is that there is an inequality in the current system of doing things, and moreover, that it’s one that benefits rape victims at the expense of accused rapists, and more specifically, fraternities.
It implies in effect that false rape accusations are more of a problem than underreported rape, and spins a yarn in which fraternities need to be protected from rampant false rape accusations.
All of which is false. The actual rate of false rape accusations is around 2 to 8 percent, which means that over 90 percent of rape victims who make an accusation have truly been victimized by those they accuse.
There’s no inequality to correct, and skewing the balance against the overwhelming majority of real rape victims, requiring them to report their assaults before the university can take steps to protect them, and limiting the steps those universities can take, can cause nothing but harm. It also turns a
blind eye to institutional problems that can lead to unsafe environments by touting law enforcement as the only institution that can keep students safe.
The measure is unanimously op-posed by groups that work with rape victims and are on the front-lines of sexual abuse support. But it hasn’t stopped national Greek life organizations from shelling out for Washington lobbyists in an attempt to push the bill through.
To their credit, some Greek organizations have denounced or with-drawn support for the measure in recent months, including the National Panhellenic Conference and the North-American Interfraternity Conference, due to back-lash from member organizations. And if we are to make progress at all and protect those within our institutions, working together with Greek life is crucial.
But we need to be able to recognize misguided and mis-prioritized legislation and oppose it with a united front.