Silver linings in Rolling Stone rape fiasco
Column by David Swanson
UVA, MA, Philosophy, 1997
Rolling Stone alleged a gang rape at UVA and now doubts its own report. I have no knowledge of the matter. Maybe the victim was completely honest. Maybe she was largely honest but too drunk, or just too traumatized, to remember which fraternity house she was in. Maybe she made it all up. I have no idea and hope a competent police department, rather than an incompetent magazine, tries to find out if possible.
The thing is, I believe a lot of people know that, and more might know it now, rather than fewer.
But it’s possible they’ll know it with a little more seriousness.
It’s all too common to assert, absurdly, outrageously, and immorally that all alleged victims must be believed as a matter of principle. It’s all too common to assume they are all lying. Neither position is a principle. Either is a preposterous bit of stupidity.
I think the more the matter is discussed, examined, and considered, the fewer people will hold either idiotic position.
So here are some possible silver linings:
Awareness that people lie about rape.
Awareness that people also tell the truth about rape, and that doing so is in some cases so notoriously difficult that a well-meaning journalist may bend over backwards to help.
Awareness that journalism can make a difference, and that it would make a bigger difference if done better. What if that were applied to military and corporate funding of universities, or the poor manner in which history is taught in our colleges, or the lives of UVA staff who work extra jobs and still need public support?
Awareness that inactive, tv-viewing, partying students can get active about something and make a difference. What if they were to notice climate change or mass incarceration or the fact that college is free in some countries that fight fewer wars?
Awareness that one incident is not a trend, and that treating it as such is unfair to all involved.
Awareness that many rapes are never reported.
Awareness that people claiming rape should be treated with kindness, consideration, understanding, and professional support, not because there is a certain high percentage chance they are telling the truth, but because they are people. Period.
Awareness that people accused of rape should be treated with kindness, consideration, understanding, and professional support, not because they could be innocent, but because they are people. Period.
Awareness that labeling people or institutions innocent or guilty, in combination with anger and vengeance, leads to blinding prejudices that make a mockery of the right to a trial and the wisdom meant to be instilled by a well-rounded education.
Awareness of all of the following:
Rape victims are victims of traumatic violence.
Someone making a false accusation may be a victim of an earlier, unreported assault, or of a traumatic or humiliating non-criminal experience, but is in any case troubled and in need of understanding.
Victims of false accusation can find the damage traumatic and lasting.
Someone accurately accused of rape is clearly a very troubled person in need of help he will not get from “correctional officers” or “inmates.”
Collectively, UVA needs restorative justice, truth and reconciliation, open discussion of rapes real, fictional, and disputed.
Individually, victims and assailants need restorative justice. Those guilty need to be brought to understand and regret their victims’ pain and suffering, and to work to make it up to them to the extent possible. Victims need to be brought to understand that they are not to blame, that their community supports them, and that those responsible are sorry for what they’ve done. None of that comes out of an ancient British system of adversarial justice, an unprecedented epidemic of U.S. mass incarceration, or journalism that doesn’t bother to get more than one side of a story.