Rolling Stone magazine and its reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely are facing a great deal of skepticism about a story called "A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA."
(On Friday, the magazine backed away from the article, saying there are discrepancies in the accuser's account "and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced.")
The article tells the story of "Jackie," a University of Virginia student who says she was gang raped at a fraternity party early in her freshman year.
There are solid journalistic reasons to question Erdely's reporting. She failed, as Slate and others have objected, to get any statements from the accused, while offering feeble and conflicting accounts about why — first saying the young men were hard to find, and then explaining that the victim was uncomfortable about having them contacted.
Richard Bradley, former editor of George magazine, urges skepticism about this story because it fits a little too neatly into a preferred leftist narrative: southern college, white fraternity boys and the campus rape culture. Others recall the panting eagerness of the press (and members of the faculty at Duke) to believe the worst about the lacrosse players.
As someone who believes that campus rape is a genuine problem, I found some aspects of the tale not credible.
The young woman claims, for example, that she was pushed into a glass table that smashed beneath her and then gang raped by seven students on cut glass. She says she then stumbled from the frat house bleeding and disheveled, yet her friends discouraged her from going to the hospital because it might quash their plans to rush at fraternities.
Without knowing more, it's impossible to say what the truth is about this woman's experience — though I imagine something traumatic happened to her. But if, for whatever reason, we learn that all or part of her story isn't true, it should not be seen as some grand refutation of the problem of rape. "If false, Rolling Stone story could set rape victims back decades," headlined the Washington Examiner. Why?
Tawana Brawley was found to be lying, but her dishonesty didn't invalidate every rape claim. The left likes to put people in categories: women, good; men, bad. Black inner-city residents, good; white police, bad. Environmentalists, honest; businessmen, liars.
For a time, when the nation was gripped by an epidemic of child abuse hysteria, we were told that "children never lie" about these things, even as coached tots were telling tales of being sexually abused in spaceships with samurai swords. The left will have its fables, whatever the strain on logic and common sense.
We don't need "Jackie" to be honest to know that campus rape is real. We have reports throughout the nation, lawsuits, complaints and word of mouth. One study put the number of sexual assaults at 100,000 a year, which may be high, but good data is elusive for crimes that nearly always entail he said/she said and are accompanied by shame.
Certainly the activists' demand that campuses handle these cases without traditional protections for the accused — such as the right to confront witnesses or be represented by counsel — represents a gross retreat from constitutional principles, and it's a separate scandal that many colleges are doing just that. But neither should we dismiss these reports as simply the result of "post-sex regrets" by young women.
For centuries, western civilization recognized that women were vulnerable to sexual violence and abuse. Painstakingly, we erected a complex architecture of mores and laws to protect women from the worst kinds of men. Some of those protections now seem ridiculous — such as the notion that a lady would never permit herself to be alone with a strange man, not even in an elevator.
But no one should be surprised that when the guardrails of sexual behavior were swept away in the flood of the sexual revolution, predatory men were handed a golden opportunity. A 2002 study by David Lisak of the University of Massachusetts and Paul Miller of the Brown University School of Medicine found that 90 percent of rapes on college campuses are committed by serial offenders. A small percentage of men are committing most of the crimes.
There is a rape culture — it's the hook-up culture that the left invented and celebrated as liberation. Until it's reversed, the rapes will continue.