Tag: Feminism

Rolling Stone Gathers Some Moss

A couple of weeks ago, Rolling Stone ran a horrific story about an alleged rape at the University of Virginia. They claimed that “Jackie” was lured to an upstairs room in a frat and brutally gang-raped by seven men. They further claimed that Jackie’s friends persuaded her not to tell anyone and she maintained her silence until she found out about other women who had been gang-raped at the fraternity. She then went to the Administration, who tepidly listened to the claim and told her to do whatever she was comfortable with rather than taking action.

Over the next few weeks, several people raised questions about the story, pointing out that it had some issues. When they found out that the reporter had not spoken to the alleged rapists, they pressed Rolling Stone further. For this, they were branded as idiots, rape apologists and rape truthers. Because, apparently, the Duke Lacrosse thing never happened.

This weekend, the roof caved in:

In the face of new information reported by the Washington Post and other news outlets, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account. The fraternity has issued a formal statement denying the assault and asserting that there was no “date function or formal event” on the night in question. Jackie herself is now unsure if the man she says lured her into the room where the rape occurred, identified in the story as “Drew,” was a Phi Psi brother. According to the Washington Post, “Drew” actually belongs to a different fraternity and when contacted by the paper, he denied knowing Jackie. Jackie told Rolling Stone that after she was assaulted, she ran into “Drew” at a UVA pool where they both worked as lifeguards. In its statement, Phi Psi says none of its members worked at the pool in the fall of 2012. A friend of Jackie’s (who we were told would not speak to Rolling Stone) told the Washington Post that he found Jackie that night a mile from the school’s fraternities. She did not appear to be “physically injured at the time” but was shaken. She told him that that she had been forced to have oral sex with a group of men at a fraternity party, but he does not remember her identifying a specific house. Other friends of Jackie’s told the Washington Post that they now have doubts about her narrative, but Jackie told the Washington Post that she firmly stands by the account she gave to Erdely.

The entire debacle is alarming. Rolling Stone never contacted the frat or the accused ringleader, despite having his name. They apparently didn’t talk to Jackie’s friends, who they accused of telling her not to go the hospital for fear of being barred from the frat scene. They did not note that her story had changed. Most disturbing of all: Jackie herself apparently asked Rolling Stone to not use her in their story and they refused, which one rape victim believes was like violating her all over again.

(I’ll take a moment here to note my tenuous connection to the story: I went to UVa for graduate school. That may have informed my initial response to the story. I know how strong Greek culture is at UVa and how big a role alcohol plays in the social life. My girlfriend at the time lived near the frats and would be catcalled if she walked by them unescorted. But the story nagged me. It sounded a little too horrifying.)

The following should go without saying but apparently it doesn’t: even if Jackie’s story were complete bullshit, this does not mean that sexual violence isn’t a problem in the country, on college campuses or at UVa in particular. But to some liberals, this needs to be said because, apparently, if you question the story — any story — you’re denying that rape exists.

Moreover it’s possible that Jackie’s story is partially correct or even mostly true. Three of Jackie’s friends have now gone on record as saying that something bad did happen, apparently a group of men forcing her to perform oral sex. If that or anything close to that is true, it’s still horrifying. And if the Administration provided her with as little guidance as alleged, that’s damning.

So this is not about “rape denial”. Nor is it about a “hoax” perpetrated by a young woman who may have a distorted memory of that night or may have her own psychological issues. This is about the complete and utter failure of journalism and an indictment of the debate we are having over sexual violence.

It’s one thing to write about the problem of campus rape and unsympathetic authorities. It’s not like there’s a dearth of real documented cases of women making substantive allegations only to see them dismissed. But in this case, a specific allegation was made about a specific frat and specific men within. Maybe they did do it. But if you’re going to name names like that, you have to do due diligence. You can’t just take one girl’s claims and run with it because it’s so sensational (especially when she has begged you not to). You have to talk to the other principles, you have to give them a chance to respond, you have to do some basic fact-checking.

And this may not be the first time this exaggeration has happened. People are now poring through Sabrina Erdely’s writings and finding other cases, involving sexual abuse in the priesthood and in the military, where her facts are wrong or extremely unlikely. In all three cases, no one doubts that sexual abuse and cover-up existed in these institutions. But in all three cases, that wasn’t enough for Erdely. She had to go with a more sensational story. Because apparently, an 18-year-old freshman being forced to perform oral sex wasn’t sensational enough.

This is the problem with the attempts to make rape and sexual violence an important issue. The people who trumpet bullshit statistics or demand that believe every accuser by default are actually doing a disservice to rape victims. They are destroying the credibility of all victims, destroying the credibility of all advocates. In politics, you only have so much ammunition to use in advancing your goal. You can’t waste it shooting at shadows. Investigating Jackie’s claims might have done her some harm. But nowhere near the harm that not investigating them has done. Because now her credibility is completely shot even though at least three people can testify that she claimed to have been assaulted on the night in question. And that’s to say nothing of the frat and the accused. If they are innocent, they have been badly harmed by these allegations. And for all of the principles here — Jackie, the boy who supposedly initiated the rape and several of the alleged participants — they’re real names have come leaking out from Rolling Stone.


One cost of minimizing false negatives is to the false positives who get hurt. But another cost is to the credibility of all rape reports. People who responded to the problems with the Rolling Stone story by saying that this didn’t have anything to do with the real problem — the culture of rape on college campuses — were missing something important. Actually, two important things. First, that deciding what to do in the face of these trade-offs between false positives and false negatives is actually a vital matter of public debate in all areas of policy, and this story cast important light on how those trade-offs may have been made outside of the public eye. And second, that by declaring that this story, which just a week before was a grave matter demanding the urgent attention of the nation, somehow became trivial and irrelevant when it started to look as if it might be false, writers and activists were suggesting that they simply didn’t care about false positives. Which undercuts the very public trust they need to advance their cause.

McArdle references Emily Yoffe’s excellent article at Slate, which you should read. It makes the case that a young man at Michigan was railroaded by a single Administrator with an agenda. McArdle also touches upon an important point which is that people wanted to believe the Rolling Stone story. As horrible as it was, it played to many of our biases: that victims always tell the truth, that frat boys are evil, that there is an epidemic of rape in this country.

For me, the ultimate take from this is to only firm up my conviction that rape and sexual assaults should be handled by the police. Jackie should have gone to the police on the night she was allegedly attacked. She should have been told, from the moment she set foot on campus, that sexual violence is a crime and a crime is something you go to the police for. Her friends should have been told to encourage victims to go the police. The Administration, upon hearing her, should not have adopted a “neutral” position but told her to go to the police. Easterbrook:

Going to police would be traumatic for those who allege sexual assault, but talking to police is traumatic for all victims of violent crimes, including for all male victims. Some law enforcement departments now have specialists in personal trauma, trained to soften the nature of the complainant interview. If local police near a college knew they’d be the ones to handle sex-assault claims, departments that do not now have specialists likely soon would.

The core aspect of campus sexual assault is that male students think they will get away with it. If the new campus standard was that police would be involved from the get-go, male students would face real consequences, and it’s possible their behavior would change. That would make women safer and also improve the situation for male students who respect women.

Yes, sometimes police can be dismissive or ask uncomfortable questions about what a woman was wearing or how much she had been drinking. Their conviction record in cases of campus rape is poor. It is difficult to bring out the truth in he-said she-said situations. The solution to that is to change the way police handle allegations of sexual violence, not to hand the process over to poli-sci professors with delusions of grandeur. As Joseph Cohn points out, the conviction rate when you don’t go the police is zero.

If something really did happen to Jackie — and I think it’s likely it did — and she had gone to the police that night, it’s possible that her attackers would be in jail. And that is a far better outcome than some frat boys being kicked off campus. Or some reporter with an agenda making stuff up so she can get some clicks.

Rush to Censor

I thought we’d reached the nadir of the Sandra Fluke thing with Mark Steyn pontificating when he clearly had not bothered to read her testimony (note to Mark: she never talked about her sex life. I mean, at all). But … as always … there is no debate in this country on which the Right can possibly be as stupid as the Left.

First, there is Gloria Allred, who is determined not to let a controversy pass without making a fool of herself. She’s threatening libel lawsuits and prosecution under an obscure law that makes it a crime to impugn a woman’s chastity. Seriously. Remember when such laws were seen as a holdover from a less-enlightened time? There were times in high school when I would have killed for someone to impugn my chastity. Just a little bit. One of the whole points of this debate — and in fact the feminist movement — is that women should not be ashamed of their sexuality.

But — and I am as surprised by this as you — Gloria Allred has not made the stupidest utterance on this matter. No, that took the combined talents of not one, not two, but three raving neo-feminist loons.

Limbaugh doesn’t just call people names. He promotes language that deliberately dehumanizes his targets. Like the sophisticated propagandist Josef Goebbels, he creates rhetorical frames — and the bigger the lie, the more effective — inciting listeners to view people they disagree with as sub-humans. His longtime favorite term for women, “femi-Nazi,” doesn’t even raise eyebrows anymore, an example of how rhetoric spreads when unchallenged by coarsened cultural norms.

Wow. You went for the Nazi reference right off the bat. I might have held back a bit before uncorking that one.

I do want to take a moment to talk about “femi-Nazi”. I was a regular Limbaugh listener for most of the 90’s and still occasionally tune him in. I have never heard him use the word “femi-Nazi”. The only time I am aware, second-hand, of him using it was when he was criticizing feminists for lamenting the decline in the number of abortions and opposing very common-sense regulations. His point was that anyone who saw a decline in the number of deaths of what was arguably a human life deserved such a moniker. I’m not sure I disagree.

But, surprisingly, that’s not the stupidest thing in the op-ed. After calling on Clear Channel to dump Limbaugh, they say:

If Clear Channel won’t clean up its airways, then surely it’s time for the public to ask the FCC a basic question: Are the stations carrying Limbaugh’s show in fact using their licenses “in the public interest?”

Spectrum is a scarce government resource. Radio broadcasters are obligated to act in the public interest and serve their respective communities of license. In keeping with this obligation, individual radio listeners may complain to the FCC that Limbaugh’s radio station (and those syndicating his show) are not acting in the public interest or serving their respective communities of license by permitting such dehumanizing speech.

The FCC takes such complaints into consideration when stations file for license renewal. For local listeners near a station that carries Limbaugh’s show, there is plenty of evidence to bring to the FCC that their station isn’t carrying out its public interest obligation. Complaints can be registered under the broadcast category of the FCC website: http://www.fcc.gov/complaints.

Wow. You will never find a better distillation of the radical feminist mindset. They believe the FCC should be looking over all broadcasts to make sure they fulfill some nebulous “public interest”. Anything that does not meet the public interest — public interest as defined by Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda and Robin Morgan — should be silenced.

They later accuse Limbaugh of “hiding behind the First Amendment”. But that’s what the First Amendment is for. It exists to shield controversial speakers from the heavy hands of know-it-all hyper-moralists like these three. Rush Limbaugh isn’t hiding behind the First Amendment. All of us are standing proudly on top of it, especially the feminists whose early calls for women’s liberation were seen as immoral and dangerous. Do you think any of these women’s early activism would have been seen as being in the public interest? Their view is so radical that it provoked Mark Randazza, who can’t stand Limbaugh, to call them crazy.

I have no problem with boycotts or pressure or calling someone out. The First Amendment does not shield you from the consequences of speech; it merely blocks government action. Calling someone an asshole is not oppression, no matter how much Kirk Cameron thinks it is. Even firing someone for speech is not oppression, no much matter how much Dr. Laura thinks it is. In a free country, people can respond to speech they don’t like by refusing to listen, by firing someone’s ass or by simply saying, “Fuck you, asshole.” But they can not respond by having the government pull the plug on a mic.

Oh, there’s one last note:

This isn’t political.

Like hell it’s not. While it’s true some feminists have called out liberals for their misogynistic statements about conservatives, those call have never come with this kind of furor and intensity. Nor have the radicals had any compunction about lumping even the mildest pro-life law with the worst and calling all of it a “war on women”. So spare me your high-minded calls for civility.

This is not about apolitical cleansing of the airwaves. The substance of the debate matters. What has really fired up these women is that this garbage as been slung at a woman calling for free birth control. If a woman testifying for abortion restrictions were called these names or worse, we would not see his kind of op-ed.

I’ve said before that I think Rush went over the line on this one. But this is not the first time this has happened in American history. It’s not the first time it’s happened this year. The unfortunate side of free speech is that sometimes people say vile and ignorant things. But the alternative is to live under the kind of society these three idiots want: one in which speech has to serve a public interest, one in which lawsuits color the sky yellow, one in which people are afraid of speaking their minds. What Rush Limbaugh said was wrong. But using the government to silence him would be even worse.