You’ve likely read or heard already about Rolling Stone magazine’s distressing story recounting an alleged gang rape in a fraternity house at the University of Virginia.
We've been reluctant to comment too quickly on this story, as we imagine more sources and evidence will emerge from this high-profile story.
The story is told by “Jackie,” who was starting her freshmen year at U Va in 2012, the year her alleged rape occured. Jackie, from a more modest background than many students at the historic public university, was thrilled to be invited to a fraternity party at Phi Kappa Psi by a handsome junior.
Here is part of Rolling Stone’s description of what Jackie alleges took place in 2012:
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 [deleted] leg," she heard a voice say. And that's when Jackie knew she was going to be raped.
The University of Virginia, it should be noted, is particularly vulnerable to such charges because it is being investigated by the federal government because of other allegations of sexual misconduct and also because of what the article terms “concerns about deep-rooted issues.”
It is no wonder that the Rolling Stone story has stirred up so much anger. It is stomach-churning.
Some have raised questions about the veracity of the account. Some even say that U Va would be a particularly inviting target for radical feminists because of its famous jock-culture.
We’ll leave doubts about the contents of the story to the skeptics, unless evidence to support them emerges, and thus far it hasn't.
But we do want to comment on what—if accurately reported—was the university’s woefully inadequate response. It is a response that would likely be just as bad, if not actually worse, under Obama administration guidelines regarding sexual assault on campus.
According to Rolling Stone, Jackie became so depressed that she couldn’t get out of bed in the morning and even considered suicide. At the end of her freshman year, Jackie went to Dean Nicole Eramo, head of UVA's Sexual Misconduct Board, to talk about what had happened. Rolling Stone reports:
When Jackie finished talking, Eramo comforted her, then calmly laid out her options. If Jackie wished, she could file a criminal complaint with police. Or, if Jackie preferred to keep the matter within the university, she had two choices. She could file a complaint with the school's Sexual Misconduct Board, to be decided in a "formal resolution" with a jury of students and faculty, and a dean as judge. Or Jackie could choose an "informal resolution," in which Jackie could simply face her attackers in Eramo's presence and tell them how she felt; Eramo could then issue a directive to the men, such as suggesting counseling. Eramo presented each option to Jackie neutrally, giving each equal weight. She assured Jackie there was no pressure – whatever happened next was entirely her choice.
Whenever anyone suffers the kind of attack Jackie detailed, it is a criminal matter. It is not an issue for a college tribunal, and it is certainly not a matter for “informal resolution.” This is a rape accusation. Rape should never be handled by a committee composed of students and a dean, ever how well-intended they may be. Rape is a matter for law enforcement and, if evidence supports the accuser’s story, the courts. Anything less falls short of justice.
The guidelines of the Obama administration don’t rule out going to law enforcement—neither do they emphasize it. The emphasis is on the college or university tribunal. I suspect some of the reason for this is that a campus committee is thought less an ordeal for the alleged victim than dealing with law enforcement. It is of course difficult to accuse someone of rape—let alone a gang of men from a stylish fraternity—and go through the legal process. One thing we must do is reiterate that rape victims have nothing of which to be ashamed. We must let them know we're on their side–but that this doesn't involve easy justice by circumventing the legal system.
We should also note that the rights of the accused are also compromised under Obama administration guidelines. As despicable as the crime of rape is, we have to face it: there are sometimes false accusations. That is why the talents and procedures of law enforcement are necessary. But U Va seems to have taken no action–until the university at last reported the accusation to the police last week, after the story was published.
In a press release headlined “Enablers of a Culture of Sexual Debauchery,” Stop Abusive and Violent Environments – SAVE—was critical U-Va's handling of the matter. SAVE earlier proposed a bill mandating reporting of rape allegations to law enforcement. SAVE noted:
Rape victims need the full array of investigative and prosecutorial services. And persons accused of a heinous crime deserve due process. Unfortunately, current policies of the Department of Education place responsibility for adjudicating sexual assault allegations on campus disciplinary panels which lack the necessary expertise, resources, and legal authority. As a result, Title IX complaints are on the rise.
Stop Abusive and Violent Environments is proposing a bill that recognizes the current system is dysfunctional. The bill would require that all campus criminal sexual assault cases that come to the attention of campus security or the campus disciplinary committee be referred to local law enforcement authorities for investigation and adjudication.
“If it had been passed to the courts, the case would have been heard by now,” said SAVE spokesperson Gina Lauterio in a follow-up email, “and the victim would see her rapists punished, or the boys (and school, actually) would have their names cleared. Right now, it’s a big mess and no one is happy.”
In addition to the university’s mishandling of the accusation, the hook-up culture on campus deserves to be noted:
…Jackie's orientation leader had warned her that UVA students' schedules were so packed that "no one has time to date – people just hook up." But despite her reservations, Jackie had flung herself into campus life, attending events, joining clubs, making friends and, now, being asked on an actual date.
Yeah, that's a great message for young women. It's not really a great one for young men either, is it?