Rolling Stone magazine published an article, titled “A Rape on Campus,” about a rape case at the University of Virginia in November 2014.
The story saw massive readership. However, as the reporter responsible for the story continued to dig—unable to confirm the identity of the accused—the thread began to unravel.
Other publications, including The Washington Post, raised questions about the coverage of the incident. It eventually became clear after extensive review that the victim of the story had fabricated the details of the event.
While we could discuss here the challenges faced by news publications with cutbacks and the various ways this affects their reporting quality, that is not the story.
The true shame of this story is the widely publicized case of a false claim of sexual assault because it plays directly into the arguments of those who refuse to acknowledge reality of rape culture.
The reality is that there are countless victims of sexual assault. It is all around us. Some are scared to come forward in the first place. Some believe coming forward will not solve anything, and others, that their case is not serious enough to warrant action.
Educational administrators and police investigators aside, this is an example of where journalists fell short on their duty to the public.
Conflicting motives are at work in the formation and execution of sexual assault policies. It can be difficult to ensure a student’s privacy while investigating to the fullest extent possible, yet ensuring privacy is part of ensuring safety.
One fault in the handling of sexual assault cases on college campuses lies in allowing the college to handle so much of the investigation. It runs contrary to common sense that college authorities should be responsible for handling an investigatory process with none of the requisite experience or authority beyond the scope of expulsion.
As with most social issues, in the 21st century we find ourselves playing rapid catch up to combat centuries of neglect. While it is important to understand that sexual assault is not a gender-specific issue, it is equally important to understand the difficulties women experience.
While Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in education, the law alone cannot ensure that the community embodies this ideal. The fight for equal rights will be written about in terms of years, but its victims live through it every day.