A “Rape on Campus”? Radical Feminism & the Rolling Stone Fiasco

[Note: I’d planned on doing a piece entitled “What Is a Liberal Arts Education For?” But the culmination of the events described here, and their implication for the sorry state of both higher education and popular journalism today, seemed more urgent, so I will post the Liberal Arts Education piece next week.]

“A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA,” the lurid account of an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity party unleased on the world late last year by Rolling Stone (Nov. 19), is now completely discredited. Rolling Stone has taken the article down, replacing it with a scathing review penned at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism (CUGSJ, report published April 5) which outlines Rolling Stone‘s multiple blunders.

In retrospect, what went wrong in the largest sense was that “A Rape on Campus” ever made it into print. I mean this in all seriousness, even though any radical feminists who happen to wander in here will probably stop reading at this point. (I doubt there are many academic radicals reading my material, anyway.)

The Rolling Stone article is down, but fortunately I archived it before Rolling Stone had time to make it disappear. Here, in the words of writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely, is what supposedly happened at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at University of Virginia on the night of September 28, 2012:

Sipping from a plastic cup, Jackie grimaced, then discreetly spilled her spiked punch onto the sludgy fraternity-house floor. The University of Virginia freshman wasn’t a drinker, but she didn’t want to seem like a goody-goody at her very first frat party – and she especially wanted to impress her date, the handsome Phi Kappa Psi brother who’d brought her here. Jackie was sober but giddy with discovery as she looked around the room crammed with rowdy strangers guzzling beer and dancing to loud music. She smiled at her date, whom we’ll call Drew, a good-looking junior – or in UVA parlance, a third-year – and he smiled enticingly back.

“Want to go upstairs, where it’s quieter?” Drew shouted into her ear, and Jackie’s heart quickened. She took his hand as he threaded them out of the crowded room and up a staircase….

…. Drew ushered Jackie into a bedroom, shutting the door behind them. The room was pitch-black inside. Jackie blindly turned toward Drew, uttering his name. At that same moment, she says, she detected movement in the room – and felt someone bump into her. Jackie began to scream.

“Shut up,” she heard a man’s voice say as a body barreled into her, tripping her backward and sending them both crashing through a low glass table. There was a heavy person on top of her, spreading open her thighs, and another person kneeling on her hair, hands pinning down her arms, sharp shards digging into her back, and excited male voices rising all around her. When yet another hand clamped over her mouth, Jackie bit it, and the hand became a fist that punched her in the face. The men surrounding her began to laugh. For a hopeful moment Jackie wondered if this wasn’t some collegiate prank. Perhaps at any second someone would flick on the lights and they’d return to the party.

“Grab its [sic.] m*****king leg,” she heard a voice say. And that’s when Jackie knew she was going to be raped.

She remembers every moment of the next three hours of agony, during which, she says, seven men took turns raping her, while two more – her date, Drew, and another man – gave instruction and encouragement. She remembers how the spectators swigged beers, and how they called each other nicknames like Armpit and Blanket. She remembers the men’s heft and their sour reek of alcohol mixed with the pungency of marijuana. Most of all, Jackie remembers the pain and the pounding that went on and on.

As the last man sank onto her, Jackie was startled to recognize him: He attended her tiny anthropology discussion group. He looked like he was going to cry or puke as he told the crowd he couldn’t get it up. “Pussy!” the other men jeered. “What, she’s not hot enough for you?” Then they egged him on: “Don’t you want to be a brother?” “We all had to do it, so you do, too.” Someone handed her classmate a beer bottle. Jackie stared at the young man, silently begging him not to go through with it. And as he shoved the bottle into her, Jackie fell into a stupor, mentally untethering from the brutal tableau, her mind leaving behind the bleeding body under assault on the floor.

When Jackie came to, she was alone. It was after 3 a.m. She painfully rose from the floor and ran shoeless from the room. She emerged to discover the Phi Psi party still surreally under way, but if anyone noticed the barefoot, disheveled girl hurrying down a side staircase, face beaten, dress spattered with blood, they said nothing. Disoriented, Jackie burst out a side door, realized she was lost, and dialed a friend, screaming, “Something bad happened. I need you to come and find me!” Minutes later, her three best friends on campus – two boys and a girl (whose names are changed) – arrived to find Jackie on a nearby street corner, shaking. “What did they do to you? What did they make you do?” Jackie recalls her friend Randall demanding. Jackie shook her head and began to cry. The group looked at one another in a panic. They all knew about Jackie’s date; the Phi Kappa Psi house loomed behind them. “We have to get her to the hospital,” Randall said.

Their other two friends, however, weren’t convinced. “Is that such a good idea?” she recalls Cindy asking. “Her reputation will be shot for the next four years.” Andy seconded the opinion, adding that since he and Randall both planned to rush fraternities, they ought to think this through. The three friends launched into a heated discussion about the social price of reporting Jackie’s rape, while Jackie stood beside them, mute in her bloody dress, wishing only to go back to her dorm room and fall into a deep, forgetful sleep. Detached, Jackie listened as Cindy prevailed over the group: “She’s gonna be the girl who cried ‘rape,’ and we’ll never be allowed into any frat party again.”

Time out. Set your emotions aside. I ask you, in all honesty: does what you just read make an ounce of damn sense?

Let’s look at it. Here’s this somewhat naïve freshman (oops, I mean first-year) girl (oops, I mean woman) at a Phi Kappa Psi fraternity party with her date, Drew, identified as a member — whom she’d met at the campus’s Aquatic and Recreation Center where they both worked as lifeguards. She goes upstairs with him, lets him lead her into a totally dark (“pitch black”) room where she encounters another guy behind her and screams. It isn’t clear why she screams at this point, but then the two of them crash through a glass table and…

Okay, hold the bus. Are we really to believe that “Jackie” and these guys were rolling around in broken glass for three hours?

She and “Drew” had gone upstairs because it was “quieter,” and screamed when she realized they weren’t alone. What was this, a soundproof room?

Did no one enter or leave during all that time?

She is able to count seven guys, and recognize the last one as being from her anthropology discussion group, even though the room is “pitch black.”

“Jackie” says she finally got up hours later, found herself alone, barefoot and bloodied, and made her way out of the fraternity house where she called her friends telling them something terrible had happened. When “Jackie” meets up with her friends, instead of breaking every speed limit getting her to the nearest emergency room, they debate the future of their social lives on campus. Or so Rolling Stone said (read it above; see below).

Had “Jackie’s” story any veracity, she would have been covered with still-bloody cuts from broken glass, with severe trauma to her pelvic region. Emergency room personnel would doubtless have contacted city police immediately. Assuming the police were on the ball (admittedly an assumption), they would have gone to the fraternity house. This was more than a mere university matter; it was a major felony. They would probably been able to nail “Drew” and his cohorts in a matter of hours.

For there should have been blood easily identifiable as “Jackie’s” on the floor (or carpet) and on the shards of broken glass from the table. “Jackie’s” blood should have been elsewhere in the house: on the doorknob to the room, on the floor, on the stairs she went down, on the handrail. What happened to her shoes? Were they still in the room? What of the red dress she claimed she’d worn. Where was it? Was it still bloodstained?

None of these matters were investigated, of course, because no one went to the authorities immediately. “Jackie” never filed a formal complaint against the fraternity or any of its members.

“A Rape on Campus” appeared on Nov. 19 and hit the Charlottesville campus like an earthquake. There were immediate protests, acts of vandalism including bricks thrown through first-floor windows of the Phi Kappa Psi house, and even death threats. A group of women faculty led a protest in front of the house. Phi Kappa Psi members, fearing for their safety, fled the house and left campus. The university closed down the fraternity system pending further investigation, punishing thousands of students who’d had no involvement in this case. What was there to investigate, though, after over two years? Charlottesville police investigated “Jackie’s” story as best they could and came up empty. “No substantive basis” was a phrase they used.

Over the next couple of weeks, doubts quickly developed about elements of “Jackie’s” story. Imagine that, given the number of things about her story that a rational mind would have questioned right off the bat. Consider the supposed conversation with her soon-to-be-former friends, which reminds me of people who have ruined their brains with reality TV. T. Rees Shapiro had followed up for the Washington Post and tried to get clarification on what happened during that meet-up. Her friends related a quite different account. They stated that “Jackie” had had a date that night and called them at 1 am, crying. She told them she’d been forced to perform oral sex on five guys. They did not recall any visible injuries, or her being barefoot. They told Shapiro — insisting on the same pseudonyms used in the Rolling Stone story — that it was “Jackie” who insisted on being taken back to her dorm room when they wanted to go to the police.

They also said Rolling Stone had not contacted them for their stories — an unbelievable lapse of judgment — much less attempted to identify any of “Jackie’s” attackers. It was unclear she’d even specified Phi Kappa Psi as the scene of the crime, or any other fraternity, for that matter. There were discrepancies of place and time. While “Jackie” had told Erdely she’d met her friends outside the fraternity house at past 3 am, they recalled meeting her at least a mile from there, and that it was closer to 1 am.

“Jackie” had gone to sexual assault counselors and university officials who could take no action, given the lack of forensic evidence that obviously would have need to be collected immediately for any criminal prosecution. Among those she spoke with was a rape survivor named Emily Renda, originally contacted by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, who also reported that “Jackie” had told her of “five” men who had forced her to have oral sex with them, only to learn from Rolling Stone that the number of attackers had increased to “seven,” excluding “Drew” and one other guy “coaching.” The Rolling Stone account had no mention of oral sex.

In fairness, Erdely began to have doubts of her own before the story went to press, beginning when “Jackie” steadfastly refused to identify the ringleader of the attack. She was still afraid of him, she insisted. “Jackie” had described quitting her job at the Aquatic and Fitness Center so as not to see “Drew” who she alleged still worked there. Erdely could not find evidence of any such person. Phi Kappa Psi chapter records indicated that none of its members worked there that semester. Finally, after assurance it would not be published, “Jackie” supplied a name. It is unclear from the public accounts whether the name she supplied is the same name that came from her three friends as someone she had met in a chemistry class: Haven Monahan. She’d supposedly had a date with this person at the time of the incident. The problem was, searches of University of Virginia enrollment records failed to turn up any such student.

Matters soon got worse. A photograph “Jackie” had supplied of “Haven Monahan” turned out to be of a former high school classmate now in another state. “Jackie” supplied a second name. This person was indeed a student at the University of Virginia and worked at the recreational facility, but when questioned, claimed he barely knew “Jackie,” had not been on a date with her, was not a Phi Kappa Psi member, and was not named “Haven Monahan.” Finally Rolling Stone mistakenly gave up its pursuit of the truth about “Drew.”

Clearly, Erdely erred in not putting more pressure on “Jackie.” She never spoke to the three now-former friends to get their perspective; she only relied on “Jackie’s” accounts which included an alleged conversation during which one of them, whose real name is Ryan Duffin, had refused angrily to talk to Erdely, citing his loyalty to the fraternity system at UVA. Duffin denied making any such refusal. The conversation had never happened, he said. What was exceedingly strange was an email Duffin claims to have received five days after the supposed attack from this “Haven Monahan” in which Jackie gushes over him … using material that turned out to have been partially plagiarized from a couple of TV series, Dawson’s Creek and Scrubs. The email account turned out to have been deactivated. Other numbers “Haven Monahan” had used to chat with Jackie’s then friends turned out to be Internet phone numbers enabling a user to send a text message from a computer or iPad that looks like it came from an actual phone. “Jackie” could have sent the messages herself.

“A Rape on Campus” was an utter disaster, however one looks at it. Almost nothing about her story, which was riddled with inconsistencies and a few outright absurdities, could be verified. “Jackie’s” date, “Drew,” appears to have never existed. The dress she said she’d worn that night had disappeared. “Jackie” said her mother had thrown it away. One thinks of that line about the dog eating your homework.

As if to put icing on the cake, Phi Kappa Psi records indicated the fraternity had not held an event on the night of Sept. 28, when the gang rape was supposed to have occurred.

Rolling Stone had little choice except to issue its infamous December 5 partial retraction and try to do damage control. The damage control wasn’t sufficient.

There are no provable matters of fact here, just allegations that, taken on their own terms, make little sense. Feminist-friendly mainstream media had already run with them, however.

Among these allegations is that “one in five university women will be raped, or sexually assaulted” when in college. This seems to have become part of radical feminist sacred writ. But do such numbers make any sense? Do the math: on a campus where, let us say, there are 28,000 students, 15,000 of them will be women. The one-in-five number implies that of this 15,000, 3,000 will be raped or sexually assaulted during their years on campus. Although it is true that many students these days fail to finish college in the traditional four years, we’ll take four years as the baseline (the number is easily adjusted). This implies that in a one-year period, there will be 750 rapes or sexual assaults on this campus.

Keep in mind, too, that the majority of students are away from campus during the three summer months. That means the majority of these 750 rapes will occur during the nine month academic year. This comes out to an average of between two and three rapes or sexual assaults per day during the academic year!

Adjust the numbers for any actual campus. Does anyone in his right mind believe there are this many rapes or sexual assaults occurring on American campuses, especially in this era of radical feminism (yes, folks, there are radical feminists on the more traditional Southern campuses of which the University of Virginia is the most prestigious, because all colleges and universities are required by federal law to have affirmative action programs that get radical feminists hired).

What might actual numbers say, even given the likelihood that some rapes go unreported? University of Michigan Ann Arbor economist Mark Perry ran some numbers for his campus based on reported sexual assaults on his campus for 2012: 32. His calculations yielded the figure that a woman on his campus had had a 1 in 155 chance of being sexually assaulted that year. Perry has called for more accurate use of statistics on campuses. (See Mark Perry, “A renewed call for accurate government reporting of statistics,” American Enterprise Institute, 23 January 2014).

There is little reason to think those pushing an ideology — now the norm on college and university campuses — are interested in facts or data, however. We see little evidence of such interest in the above case. What we see is a seasoned reporter looking for and seizing upon an opportunity to portray a somewhat traditional university campus in the worst light possible.

Radical feminist ideology may be targeting men as a group, but there is no reason to think it is helping women. With visible cases such as this one being exposed as probable hoaxes — which may seem a rash judgment, but given the absence of factual, forensic evidence what are we supposed to think? — actual victims will indeed be more, not less, reluctant to come forward. Yes, there are actual victims of rape or sexual assault on college and university campuses; nothing I’ve said should be read as denying this. But Can she be believed? is clearly more a valid question now than it was before “A Rape on Campus.”

The truth is, we have no way of knowing what actually happened that night, even if we assume the incident wasn’t fabricated. Ryan Duffin remained convinced that something had happened. Maybe something did. We don’t know, and probably never will. One thing we do know is that psychological certainty is not evidence — evidence of the sort necessary to put rapists in prison! The Rolling Stone article received over 2.7 million hits prior to its removal. A college’s reputation has been sullied as has Phi Kappa Psi fraternity which was turned upside down for no good reason. Lives have been affected by what one administrator reasonably called “drive-by journalism,” based on what may turn out to be the work of a pathological liar. Some women, after all, are very good actresses, and lies have a way of unraveling when enough people put them under a microscope. Am I being overly harsh? Remember, “Jackie” dragged innocent others into this thing. Aside from those at the fraternity, she produced a picture of a former classmate, and then ID’d a guy, clearly innocent, who worked at the campus rec center. Those others were confronted and questioned.

Now for all I know, there might be people reading who will wonder, What’s your stake in all this? Do you have a dog in this fight? If not, why are you involving yourself at all?* As an outsider who lost academic positions to less-qualified women courtesy of the favoritism towards women in academia, Yes, indirectly, I do have a dog in this fight. As an outsider, I believe I have insights that are lost on the majority of established academics (and established journalists) who cannot see the forest for the trees. The leftist mindset that dominates academic faculties and, in a slightly more modest form, major media, predisposes its readers to take lurid stories like “Jackie’s” at face value, despite major lapses in judgment and basic common sense, the biggest lapse at Rolling Stone being its reliance on a single source despite multiple red flags about that source’s credibility.

I have met academic radicals. I wouldn’t turn my back on one. I especially wouldn’t turn my back on those characters who label themselves “male feminists”! One such person I chanced to have a hostile exchange of letters in the Letters to the Editor column back in the early 1990s in the American Philosophical Association’s flagship publication clearly had a few loose screws.

It is clear to me when a writer approaches a theme with an agenda, not a desire for truth and justice. That was the case with “A Rape on Campus.” One wonders how many alleged rape cases Sabrina Rubin Erdely passed over before she found one she could portray as sufficiently lurid to make her case that universities are “rape cultures” with administrations that do not respond properly to allegations of sexual assault.

Academic leftists just don’t get it. Judgments about truth and falsity, guilt or innocence, need to be based on factual evidence and logic, not ideology and emotion. Academic leftists do not understand the world of those of us who insist on evidence and logic. They see these as “constructions” evidencing “male domination,” which has the silly implication that women can’t really think logically or make deductions based on evidence. To the extent they get special favors, academic leftists create and perpetuate an environment where truth and justice take a back seat to ideological beliefs, and where propositions (e.g., university campuses are part of a “rape culture”) become true, a fortiori, because a politically favored group says so.

Radical feminists’ commitment to their ideology is as fervent is that of any religious fundamentalist. They are intent on “sticking it” to the “patriarchy,” and if they see a chance to damage reputations associated with that (e.g., fraternities), they will take it. If innocents get harmed along the way, well, just as in times of war, that’s just collateral damage. Few religious fundamentalists have tenure, teaching undergraduates at major universities. They are not in a position to cover up or sometimes invent facts instead of revealing them, citing trendy rationalizations about factual evidence being a “social construction” and “gendered.” Let’s use common sense: if a rape occurs, is it a “social construction”? Again, and finally, lest there be any confusion: I am not saying campus rapes do not occur. There is just no good evidence that this one did.

According to the CUGSJ report, “Jackie” declined to be interviewed for its writers. She’s retained an attorney who commented, “It is in her best interest to remain silent at this time.” No surprises there, with the UVA Phi Kappi Psi chapter preparing what will doubtless be a whopping lawsuit against Rolling Stone. Why would they not? They were lynched in a media environment far more concerned with political correctness and sensationalism than getting to the bottom of what really happened, if anything did.

Some (e.g., at CNN) expressed surprise that no one at Rolling Stone has been disciplined, much less fired. Insiders always land on their feet. Always.

Is it any wonder that the closest thing to a bestseller academia has seen in over 30 years is Harry Frankfurt’s infamous On Bullshit (2005)?

*It might be worth noting that I have no association whatsoever with the University of Virginia, and have relied exclusively on publicly available accounts of this story.


About Steven Yates

I have a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Georgia and teach Critical Thinking (mostly in English) at Universidad Nacionale Andrés Bello in Santiago, Chile. I moved here in 2012 from South Carolina. My most recent book is entitled Four Cardinal Errors: Reasons for the Decline of the American Republic (2011). I am the author of an earlier book, around two dozen articles & reviews, & still more articles on commentary sites on the Web. I live in Santiago with my wife Gisela & two spoiled cats, Bo & Princesa.
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