In the aftermath of the University of Virginia non-rape story and the lack of any substantive apologies to the fraternity or Rolling Stone firings as a result, one's mind is necessarily going to wander. The "Jackie" character who made up the story is still a student at UVa, and the "Dr. Teresa Sullivan" character is still running the university as its president, even though her overreaction led to an absurd shutdown of sororities (yes, you read that correctly) as well as all the fraternities. Neither has been punished, nor will either be.
It seems much clearer now. "Jackie" came to UVa a somewhat disturbed person, as evidenced by her aggressively going after a male fellow student who had no romantic interest in her, and then engaging him to try to check out another male fellow student's interest in her. That student, well, didn't exist and "Jackie" had set up a private phone number to "be" him. Not really stable, that girl.
When some of that started to fall apart, she made up a story about being gang-raped, assuming she'd be made out the victim and wouldn't have to defend herself very hard. Of course, when you make up the story with dates of events that didn't happen, and refuse to complain to the police who could have helped, your credibility sinks lower than that of the current president. And, as it turned out, she made the whole thing up -- part of the syndrome and totally in character for what we have learned about this person.
Back to the aftermath.
We know that people are sexually assaulted. We know it happens on campus, and we know that there are predatory males armed with alcohol and drugs and pickup lines. We would like that behavior to end -- and I mean this second. We would like there to be an environment where the victims of such assaults can go straight to the police and feel comfortable reporting it.
However -- we also know that when you extract the violence aspect of rape, you are left with sex -- and sex can be a perfectly consensual act. This means that the physical evidence, and the testimony of the participants, are vital in determining which one, if any, actually happened when rape is claimed. It's far too easy for a participant to claim lack of consent the next day, after having been entirely consenting during the act, but angry about something thereafter. That's a pretty hard case to adjudicate.
And now we also know something. We know that a rape claim can be a weapon, some might say a cry for help regarding something that has nothing to do with an actual rape. We have now seen that the institutional response is likely to be very dramatic, and if this is in response to a fake claim, it gives the complainant a lot of the attention and publicity they want -- even if their name is never raised, their persona is publicized.
But of course, it is exactly the dramatic over-response that is the problem, because that reaction involves punishment of the innocent, and that -- a loss of due process -- should offend us mightily. If I were a UVa Phi Kappa Psi member, I would be knocking on every door of the administration building in Charlottesville daily and asking "Excuse me, ma'am, but what office do I see to get my reputation back?"
There will be a next fake-rape UVa-type story at some college somewhere. What will that school's Teresa Sullivan do? Will he or she shut down the whole sorority system as well as the fraternities? Or will he or she immediately call for cool heads and note that due process mandates that nothing be done without a reasonable police investigation into the facts? (If you're in Vegas, bet on "A")
"Jackie" has caused great problems for actual rape victims everywhere, and she owes a lot of people an apology -- the Phi Kappa Psi chapter at UVa; the whole Phi Kappa Psi national organization and its members; the entire UVa Greek system, all for the aspersions cast upon them and the unwarranted punishment they received. She should apologize to Teresa Sullivan for setting her up to look stupid, though I gather Dr. Sullivan was quite capable of doing that on her own.
Most of all, "Jackie" has clouded the response to future incidents -- and for that she owes everyone an apology.
Of course, like that from Teresa Sullivan, we'll be waiting a long time for it.
Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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