Last month, Rolling Stone ran an article on rape culture in US colleges, focusing primarily on the experiences of a young woman who told the magazine she was gang raped at a frat party.
Rolling Stone has been accused of letting rape survivors everywhere down by not properly fact checking the claims of the woman in question, Jackie, and for running a story with inconsistencies.
The magazine did let rape survivors down, but not by believing Jackie. They let us down by abandoning her for not being a good enough victim.
They first let her down by choosing to still run her story after she asked them not to. This makes the way they then abandoned her after using her story for all the more despicable.
As many other people have pointed out it is common for people who have experienced a traumatic event to have inconsistencies in their memory of it.
Rolling Stone let us all down, but most of all, they let Jackie down, by letting her become an example to all rape survivors of what will happen to you if you step out of line, if you don’t fit the impossible mold of a “good” victim but dare to speak out anyway.
It is disappointing to see so many progressive media outlets reinforcing the same victim-blaming narratives as conservative pundits. Such narratives have a wide-reaching impact and tell people it is okay to disregard sexual assault survivors who don’t tick all the right boxes.
Should this woman be fair game to have her personal information, full name and other identifying information shared online (all things that have been done to her) because she, for reasons we do not know, has given accounts that differed in some aspects as to what happened? Where is the outcry about the sites now dedicated to attacking her?
I've spoken to several other rape survivors who saw in the online attacks on Jackie a wide scale, incredibly aggressive reflection on their own experiences of being disbelieved and blamed.
When the media (including social media) responds in the way it has towards Jackie, survivors are told that if our story isn't perfect, if it can't be verified by other people, that if we didn't act in the “right” way before, during, and after the incident, that if we ever leave any details of the assault out then include them later, or ever make any mistakes, we had better stay silent.
And what a convenient way to silence survivors: say that we can be heard and believed, but set the bar so high that only a tiny percentage of us are deemed worthy of listening to. And that those of us not worthy of listening too are deemed worthy of attack.
As Jackie’s story was publically picked to pieces and she was hung out to dry, I couldn’t help but see parallels with my own experiences and I know I am not the only person who felt this.
People have come forward to say that Jackie gave differing accounts of the rape. This isn’t unusual at all; it can take a long time for someone to be able to give all the details of such a traumatic experience. Some people never can.
Things like shame and self-blame can keep someone from revealing the full extent of what was committed against them. I was gang raped at 15 and I outright lied about aspects of the rape because I was so ashamed and afraid.
I don’t actually know how many men raped me (believe it or not taking detailed notes on what was happening wasn’t at the forefront of my mind at the time), so I originally said only one of them had had piv intercourse with me (even though I knew it was more and knew they had bragged about it).
One of the reasons I lied was because I really didn’t know that if I blacked out, either from alcohol or fear that it was still rape to have intercourse with me. Another reason was because I blamed myself for being in that situation and was afraid no one would believe me. I also was disgusted at having been raped by multiple men and didn’t want it to be true.
I also lied about who committed it. I knew some of them (not well) and could have given their names to the police, but I was afraid and didn’t want to have to relive it all. Therefore I lied and said it was strangers who I had only met that day. It took years before I could open up about what really happened and who really did it.
That doesn’t make the new revelations a lie, all it means is that I was traumatised. If we tie rape survivors to their original recounting of events, we silence them.
Rolling Stone has been criticised for not contacting the accused to confirm Jackie’s claims. Would any of them really have admitted to raping someone? And if not should all claims of rape that cannot be backed up by witnesses or the accused be ignored?
Rolling Stone is not the court of law and it did not publish the names of the men accused. In short, the publication of the story did little to hurt the accused, if anything at all. Therefore they did not owe it to them to get their side of things, especially at the expense of Jackie.
If we abandon Jackie to the online abuse, if we decide she has hurt “the cause” by daring to speak out when her story doesn’t meet the impossible bar set by those who want to silence us, if we decide she lost the right to solidarity by being humanly flawed, then we too are perpetuating rape culture.
Jackie doesn’t owe anyone anything. She doesn’t owe campaigners a good story that can’t be picked apart by those determined to not believe her.
But people who are serious about campaigning to end rape culture do owe solidarity to anyone who speaks out like Jackie did, especially someone like Jackie who had asked not to have her story published — a solidarity that includes challenging victim blaming myths that silence survivors.
In the face of the widespread attacks on Jackie there have been supportive actions and voices. Someone has storified messages of support for Jackie that were shared on twitter as #IStandWithJackie and #IBelieveJackie.
But you only have to look at all the misogynist trolling those hashtags received to see how far we have to go, which is why it is important to continue challenging victim blaming in the media.