Richson: A horror story at UVA


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The reason people flock to mediocre horror films, despite the inevitable painfully bad acting, is that on some minimal level, they are believable. They present an elaborative narrative that tells the basics of human nature. And we watch the entire thing play out.

When rumblings began to emerge that there were holes in Rolling Stone’s widely shared article condemning the University of Virginia as a breeding ground for fraternal misogyny and rape, I was very upset. I was not upset for any injustice done to the school, which will undoubtedly emerge unscathed possibly with the loss of some donors.

I am upset because now people will want to toss this horror narrative of its own in the trash without piecing together any of the shreds. I am upset because this story, while appalling and gruesome, was believable. Factual inconsistencies regardless, that this story was anything other than preposterous indicates that there is a serious problem with how universities across the nation are addressing students’ reports of sexual assault.

I am upset because a Rolling Stone journalist should have done her job rather than trudging onward with an incomplete story that has now cast doubt in the public eye toward survivors’ voices. In theory, the American justice system functions on the “innocent until proven guilty” adage … which seems to be a Catch-22 in this situation; facts provided by the fraternity that loomed throughout the article do not corroborate the story of Jackie (the woman at the center of the Rolling Stone piece), and thus the perpetrators can be neither named nor condemned.

And yet, if we are still buying into the innocent until proven guilty precedent, then we must stand by at least the foundation of Jackie’s story, because she has a right to be without judgment in her recollection of events that surely would be disorienting for any freshman student.

There has much debate that grapples with how many rape accusations are actually false, but I believe that the right to have one’s story heard should overwhelm the public doubt that could now potentially plague survivors for years to come.

I believe that something awful happened to Jackie and that unfortunately, she was swept up by a reporter’s blind ambition. I also believe that the people who Jackie initially came to with her story failed her due to a general placement of public reputation and status quo above compassion, support, and the investigation of claims.

We must not lose our ability to listen with unconditional positive regard. Yes, Rolling Stone’s most recent diatribe seems to be crumbling at our feet, but above all, we have to remember that something about the university culture prevalent today made us wholeheartedly believe it. And we should find that unsettling.

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