UVA Wins! Women Lose.
Rolling Stone Magazine settled the defamation lawsuit brought by UVA Assistant Dean Nicole Eramo for an undisclosed sum. Her lawyers asserted that the now-debunked article, A Rape on Campus, cast the Dean, in my words, as “half the problem, none of the solution.” According to the Washington Post, Dean Eramo’s lawyer said, “We are delighted that this dispute is now behind us, as it allows Nicole…to focus on…supporting victims of sexual assault.”
Unfortunately, through no fault of her own, Dean Eramo was only able to help a fraction of the women who needed her before Rolling Stone came to town to tell “Jackie’s” story of a brutal gang-rape in a fraternity house bedroom. Now, I’d be surprised if she has any opportunity to counsel and support survivors at all. The problem hasn’t gone away. It might actually be worse. We’ll never know.
It used to be the case that a woman took a risk coming forward after an assault. Even if vindicated, she was likely ruined socially, often having to transfer or just drop out altogether. Now, she’d be a fool to point a finger because no good can come of it. Not for her, anyway. John Q. Perpetrator is counting on this. Disgraced journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely will, rightfully, take that thought to bed with her for the rest of her life. (Which is a shame, because she had been fighting the good fight for years.) I doubt the editor—who should be taking more than an award-winning journalist’s word that a story of this importance checks out—or the senior management who sign the paychecks will.
What it felt like to be on-grounds in the aftermath of the article’s release is hard to explain. We were appalled, furious, sad…but also, excited. Finally, someone held up a big mirror and said, “Look at what we are allowing here!” People mobilized. We all assumed it was true because we knew and know that type of thing really is happening. Here, there, and everywhere. (It was only 4 years before this that our eyes were opened when UVA lacrosse player Yeardley Love was murdered by her lacrosse player ex-boyfriend.) But because Rolling Stone put its credibility and weight behind a BS story, UVA, who, at best, underestimated the problems its female students faced, got to be the victim. Jackie lied. No problems here.
UVA and schools across the country did hear the message, though, and have taken concrete steps to address the problem. Conversations that weren’t happening before have become common. I know a current first-year student. She came here with her eyes wide open. But that’s not enough. Orientation seminars and the like are akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic if women do not feel safe to say, “I was raped.” The burden of proof has never been more on the victim, who is most vulnerable.
Saying that this is a UVA problem is like saying, “If only the Deepwater Horizon was an Exxon well.” Sexual assault is an epidemic here, at Liberty University, in Cedar Rapids, IA…anywhere there’s a “U of…” Some institutions are doing a better job handling it, and there is value in looking to see their best practices. But I don’t think anyone has the problem under control. How could they if they don’t know what’s happening?
What to do?
Whether you are a student or packing your child off to college, ask questions. Where does a woman go for help? A dedicated office or local PD? How many sexual assaults were reported and how many of those cases were adjudicated? Don’t be naïve or let them bury your head in the sand next to theirs. Sexual assault is going to be a problem anywhere a near majority of the population is experiencing peak testosterone levels, binge drinking, and still developing their frontal lobes. Call me a generalizing sexist, but the numbers bear me out. How the institution handles this is what defines it. Be fair. Don’t punish them for honesty; it’s the schools that can’t—or won’t—give you either or both of those numbers that you should worry about.
Let Rolling Stone know they can’t get away with such irresponsibility. Whatever they paid Dean Eramo was a pittance compared to the suffering of the thousands of women who will be raped but cannot come forward because Jackie lied, Sabrina Erdely bought it, and Rolling Stone published it. (Except for Sabrina, I don’t think any heads rolled.) Rather than spreading falsehoods that undermine real victims’ credibility, tell them to use their prominence to promote awareness. Erdely was onto something and could have found a true version of that story on a thousand different campuses. Rolling Stone should find the real cases of administrations turning a blind eye to the plight of its female (and other victimized) students and tell us about them. And while they’re at it, Rolling Stone should do some penance and give organizations like ItsOnUs.org or RAINN.org, for examples, some free advertising.
It’s Sexual Assault Awareness & Prevention Month. It’s also a lovely spring and I’ve already seen the Solo cups littering lawns of fraternities and student houses. Good for them! But let’s remember: It is happening. A woman at one of those parties is going to be coerced, duped, or forced to do something she doesn’t want to do. Within a half-mile from where I’ll be sleeping, probably not much further from where your bed is, too. If the first thought through our heads is, “But Jackie lied,” we are the problem.
Michael Campbell is a psychologist who left academia to become a fiction author. His controversial The Family Trust series of thrillers are written to entertain (mostly men) with racy topics like dominance and submission, making no nods to political correctness. On a deeper level, however, he challenges us to confront our -isms and assumptions. The stories are dark, occasionally violent, and often funny. #feministdude
All thoughts presented here represent my opinions based on a 25-years in higher education.