Nothing brings the internet's sexist vigilantes together more than a young woman saying she's been gang raped

One in five American women are sexually assaulted at university, yet a campaign to silence and shame victims still rages on

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The Independent Online

It doesn’t take long for rape apologists to band together and rear their ugly heads. Rolling Stone recently published a disturbing piece about a young woman, known only as Jackie, who experienced a horrific, brutal gang rape at a frat party at the University of Virginia.

It was just one more voice added to the emerging crowd of female college students across the US, all saying the same thing: our fellow students are raping us, and nobody cares. According to a report released by the White House, one in five American women are sexually assaulted or raped during their time at university. Some people would assume that the only appropriate response to this is to listen, to condemn this epidemic, and to work towards a solution.

Well, apparently, you’d be wrong. Because a group of conservative “journalists” have spent the days since the story surfaced working tirelessly to “prove” that this incident never happened, that Jackie willfully lied about her assault, and that colleges across America are somehow right to silence students like her.

It all began when the University of Virginia fraternity embroiled in the allegations denied key parts of Rolling Stone's story. The Washington Post printed their statement, and criticised Rolling Stone for not investigating any discrepancies in the story more thoroughly. Then Rolling Stone themselves turned on Jackie, blaming her for any errors in their work, writing, “we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced.” (They then swiftly reversed this statement to say “mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie.”) Now, a group of bloggers with no connection to the case have taken it upon themselves to doggedly pursue Jackie, demanding that she “admit the truth.”

 

Determined to defend the reputation of the accused students at all costs, they have even published details of her identity, including her full name, in their noble quest for “The Truth”. Thank God someone out there is willing to fearlessly protect society’s most privileged individuals, and silence its most suppressed. Where would we be without such revolutionary vigilantism?

Chuck C Johnson, the “journalist” and ringleader of these unrelenting crusaders, paints himself as a God-like figure, burning pesky accusers to the ground by simply pointing his righteous finger of retribution at “the facts”.

 

This by no means the first time Johnson's "journalism" might have exposed a vulnerable person to risk. In October, his Twitter account was suspended after he posted the street address of someone he claimed had been exposed to the Ebola patient in Dallas. Last month, he published the names, addresses and phone numbers of other journalists after they described the former residence of NYPD officer Darren Wilson (they acknowledged in the article that he had moved away from this home shortly after the shooting). He even tweeted about "[setting] the price on the head of each journalist we take down. Think a kickstarted [sic] for bounties."

There was no moral justification to Johnson's disclosure. In the UK, when a sexual assault case is going through the courts, it's illegal to publish details of the victim's identity. In the US, almost all media corporations have policies in place that prevent the naming of victims. While there might not have been any active legal proceedings in this instance, it's almost universally agreed that potential rape victims should be protected, precisely because rape apologists like Johnson will seek to shame, intimidate and harm them.

When Johnson released Jackie’s identity, he did so to silence and punish her for daring to tarnish the reputation of men. She hadn't even named any of the men who she says raped her - which makes the idea that she would have fabricated her story seem even less likely. But for someone reason Johnson felt it was an attack on his fellow men, and doesn't believe her story. So to readdress the balance, he now seeks total control over the narrative of her assault.

 

When the Washington Post, journalists like Johnson, and frat boys at UVA all come together to cry “discrepancies!” in response to Jackie’s story, they aren’t shedding light on some higher, previously untouched truth. It’s not surprising that all the individuals accused of failing Jackie (the boys who raped her, the friends who silenced her, and the university that refused to bring her assailants to justice) have disagreed with her story.

Even if some details of Jackie’s story are proven to be false, many, many people who have gone through a traumatic experience like rape can’t remember the incident perfectly (studies on the effect of PTSD on memory can be found here and here). It is incredibly common to find “discrepancies” within traumatic accounts. In fact, eye witness testimony in general is frequently found to be unreliable when it comes to specific details. Yet time and time again, rape victims are not only expected to relive their trauma by recounting their assaults on demand to strangers, but to to possess near-superhuman memory abilities when they do so.

We know that women are being raped all around us, every day, especially within the hallowed walls of university campuses. So why are swathes of men foaming at the mouth with desperation to prove that this rape allegation is a willful lie? This sinister ideology jumps to protect society's most protected individuals at the expense of hurting those most at risk. It betrays an entirely selfish line of privileged conservatism that refuses to listen to oppressed voices if they threaten the oppressor in any way. It says that the reputation of men is more important than the continued violent abuse of women.

Blaming victims, perpetuating the myth that accusations are lies, and denying that rape exists encourages violence against women. It must not continue. #IStandWithJackie because I refuse to allow the dominant narrative to be that rape victims are lying. We know they aren't.

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