Another UVA gang-rape victim speaks out

Much of the backlash against Rolling Stone’s story about the mishandling of rape allegations at UVA seems to be predicated on the idea that the story which opens it – the brutal gang rape of a young woman named Jackie at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house – is just too awful or outlandish to be believed. That’s more than a little eyebrow raising given that another case of gang rape at UVA involving the very same fraternity made national headlines in 2005.

In 1984, Liz Securro was gang-raped at the Phi Kappa Psi house at UVA. She discusses her experience – and her frustration with the way conversations about rape continue to be carried out – in an opinion piece in Time:

Over 30 years ago, I told my own story to then student journalist Gayle Wald, who wrote extensively of my rape in the now defunct UVA newspaper, theUniversity Journal. I asked that she use a pseudonym (Kate) for me, and, like Jackie, I begged her not to interview the one man I knew had raped me, as I feared repercussions. There were two other attackers whose names I did not know. When I went to the dean of students at that time, Robert Canevari, I was covered in bruises, still bloodied, and had broken bones. He sat at his big desk across from me and suggested I was a liar and had mental problems for reporting my rape. Some of my new friends told me not to tell, that no one would believe me, that I would ruin my own reputation and that of “Mr. Jefferson’s University.” Almost a quarter-century after my gang rape, one attacker was arrested and jailed for his participation in it, for about six months. He had written me a letter of apology in 2005, which became the basis for a case against him. I wrote about the crime, the investigation, the plea deal, and its effects on my life in my memoir, Crash Into Me, which Bloomsbury published in 2011. I have become a victims’-rights advocate. The similarities between my experience and Jackie’s story are astounding because the culture has remained almost identical in the three decades separating our rapes.

Do you believe me?

. . .

Wholesale doubt or dismissal of a rape account because it sounds “too bad to be true” is ridiculous. Is it easier to believe a rape by a single stranger upon a woman in a dark alley? What about marital rape? What if a prostitute is raped? Just how bad was it? We should not have a rape continuum as part of the dialogue, ever.

Of course nobody wants to believe that an ugly gang rape could happen at a venerated institution of higher learning, even though our rape statistics provesomething is rotten in Charlottesville, in South Bend, in Tallahassee, in Boulder. But Americans are still a puritanical and repressed bunch who would prefer to see the only rosiest picture of our sweet land of liberty.

It’s also why we have struggled to comprehend the allegations leveled against Bill Cosby by 20-something (and counting) different women. Why couldn’t it just be the one, 10 years ago, who we believed? Cliff Huxtable, with his goofy faces, goofier sweaters and lovingly imparted life lessons, could never drug and rape women. But, allegedly, Cosby could, and has.

8 thoughts on “Another UVA gang-rape victim speaks out

  1. Eleanor, while I agree that there is much more to the Rolling Stone article than the veracity of the particular case it opens with, I worry that if the case turns out to be largely/mostly fabricated it will have incredibly devastating consequences for anti rape activism.

  2. I think it would be dangerous to be too casual about the mounting evidence that the Rolling Stone story’s central theme is not factually correct. It is one thing to think (as the original post here does) that the media is insufficiently willing to believe an alleged rape survivor in the light of ambiguous evidence. It is quite another to disregard concrete evidence that an allegation is false. (And I note that Rolling Stone itself is now distancing itself from the story.)

    The FP article on the UVA story begins:
    Many of you may have already read the heartbreaking Rolling Stone piece on sexual assault at University of Virginia. If you haven’t, here’s the lede:
    Jackie was just starting her freshman year at the University of Virginia when she was brutally assaulted by seven men at a frat party. When she tried to hold them accountable, a whole new kind of abuse began.

    Most third-party reporting has a similar theme. It wouldn’t be consistent to (i) use the traumatic central story in an article about campus rape as a central plank in one’s analysis of that article and then (ii) subsequently claim that the truth or otherwise of that central story isn’t relevant.

    I take campus rape very seriously: several of my friends have survived it. But the case for doing something about it would not, in my view, be helped by insouciance about major factual inaccuracies in reporting. It’s epistemically dubious and it’s strategically and politically unwise.

  3. Yes, David, I agree. Being casual about the truth only plays into the hands of those who want to dismiss anti rape activists as ideologogues and unthinking zealots. If the story is false, it matters quite a lot.

    That being said, I think we should also carefully countenance the middle ground between ‘everything in the RS article is completely accurate’ and ‘the whole story is complete fabrication’. Rape victims are victims of extreme trauma. They often suffer from PTSD and other psychological problems. It is not uncommon for their stories to be somewhat inconsistent over time, or even for them to have a hard time understanding what really did or did not happen to them. All of this can arise for victims of rape *precisely because they are victims of rape*. It’s one of the – many – things that makes rape cases so difficult to prosecute, and which can contribute to the general dismissal of victim testimony.

  4. Is the suggestion here that we should withhold judgment about the veracity of such stories? Or that we should believe such stories until all of the fact-checking had been done? Or something else?

  5. Mounting evidence? From what it sounds like, the two pieces of “evidence” against Jackie’s having been raped at the Phi Psi house are as follows:

    1) No one on the official Phi Psi roster during the semester that Jackie was raped worked as a lifeguard, which “Drew” the ringleader of the gang rape was said to.

    2) There was no official event scheduled at the frat house on the day Jackie was raped.

    Both of these pieces of information are totally compatible with Jackie’s story being accurate. As a number of online commenters in the Greek system (some at UVA specifically) have pointed out, many frat activities and even affiliations take place off the official record.

    With regards to 1), often guys who live in a frat house or are affiliated with a fraternity are not officially affiliated for every semester they live there. Sometimes when brothers get behind on their dues or don’t make grades, they don’t get to be on the official roster of fraternity members that semester, but the other brothers don’t kick them out of the house; they still get to live there. This is a pretty common phenomenon in fraternities. Assuming “Drew” was one such brother, he wouldn’t have been on the official membership roster but would still have been living in the Phi Psi house as well as working as a lifeguard.

    With respect to 2), the frat’s lawyer released a statement saying that “the Chapter did not have a date function or social event during the weekend of September 28” which was when Jackie’s rape took place. Now, most of us who attended a US college with a Greek system know that most of the “social events” that take place at frat houses are unofficial. A frat might have one or two official events (what are referred to in the statement as “date functions”) during the semester, like a formal dance where everyone brings a date. But the vast majority of actual social events that take place at a frat house involve people informally gathering to drink and party. When a frat hosts an “official social event” the Chapter must then abide by the national rules of the organization, which usually involves getting venues approved and carding underage drinkers. Official events also tend to draw more attention and awareness from campus police. So the vast majority of parties that take place in frat houses are certainly not officially sanctioned events or date functions.

    There is nothing unusual or out of the ordinary about either of the above scenarios that I have mentioned. The scenario that explains 2) is in fact the norm. The one that explains 1) is an exception to the norm, but a common one nonetheless.

  6. @Anonymous: I’m only going on one piece of evidence, really: that the magazine that originally reported the story is now distancing itself from it. If your only reason to believe X is the testimony of a source (Rolling Stone in this case) that is no longer prepared to assert X, you’d be well advised to be – at least – a fair amount less confident of X than before.

Comments are closed.