• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


The U.Va. Mess

Trying to make sense of the fallout.


January 18, 2015

Unlike a number of commenters on this site, I believe that rape culture is a real and pervasive problem. This is why I initially hesitated to comment on the Rolling Stone "exposé" of the University of Virginia.

I am not a journalist, and have only a lay person's understanding of journalistic ethics. I am a psychologist who has worked extensively with traumatized populations, though, including victims of rape, torture and extreme street crime, and am thus very aware of how trauma tends to mess with our already fragile ability to recall events accurately.

It wasn't that I disbelieved "Jackie," whose story of a brutal gang rape at a fraternity house formed the centerpiece of the story. As I have mentioned here, I attended what was then the "sister school" of the University (as we were supposed to call it, as though there were only one worth mentioning), and her story, and those of other women quoted in the piece, were sickeningly similar to stories that were shared, hinted at, and even joked about 40+ years ago. Back then, there was too much shame involved to speak out openly; I was relieved that the problem was finally getting some light and air.

But I couldn't understand why, especially given the unreliable nature of the traumatized brain, "Jackie" was allowed to run the show. The decision to "respect" her request not to talk to her alleged primary assailant didn't seem respectful to me, of Jackie, of the accused, or of the reader. The failure to check basic facts, such as whether the fraternity in question had held a party the night of her alleged attack, seemed insane.

I didn't feel qualified to say anything, because it was only a "gut feeling." But the feeling was strong. And so I kept quiet and waited to see what would unfold.

This is why I was saddened, but not surprised, when the story fell apart. (I have to admit that I was surprised by the extent to which "Jackie" appears to have fabricated, rather than misremembered, important aspects of her story. But the story itself was clearly full of holes regardless of the motivation of its subject.) There didn't seem much to say at that point.
This week, though, Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity in question, was reinstated on the UVA campus. The president of the fraternity's UVA chapter issued a statement that reads as thoughtful, mature and anti-inflammatory.

I understand that the statement probably received expert PR input. But it was approved by the chapter, and I find that very hopeful.


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