The Rolling Stone rape story that's being used as a weapon.



“Women lie about sexual assault all the time”.

“Girls, you don’t get to ‘cry rape’ the next morning just because you regret acting so slutty”.

“False allegations are so much worse than rape itself”.

These are some of the infuriating sentiments being bandied about by Men’s Rights Activists in the fallout from a magazine story in the US that has turned a glaring spotlight on the way that sexual assault is talked about and reported.

Here’s what happened:

In November this year, Rolling Stone, a magazine that was established in 1967 and prides itself on its investigative reporting of the music industry and politics, published an article titled ‘A Rape on Campus’. The article included an account from a woman named ‘Jackie’, a student from University of Virginia, who told Rolling Stone journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely that she was gang-raped in 2012 during a party at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.

The Rolling Stone story, ‘A Rape on Campus’.

Since then, people and groups have come forward to dispute Jackie’s account. The fraternity issued a statement via The Washington Post vehemently denying the rape claim and disputing Jackie’s facts.

Other students have also spoken to the media questioning Jackie’s account. Other witnesses said that, while she did seem shaken after the alleged attack, she just wanted to return to her dorm (rather than go immediately to police).


University of Virginia’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house (via wikipedia)

The backlash against Jackie.

The Washington Post has now published a series of scathing articles questioning Jackie’s version of events and criticising Rolling Stone for failing to adequately fact-check Jackie’s story before publication.

In response, Rolling Stone‘s managing editor Will Dana issued a statement offering an explanation and partial defence for how reporter Erdely went about the story. The statement said that “Jackie neither said nor did anything that made Erdely, or Rolling Stone‘s editors and fact-checkers, question Jackie’s credibility”.

Rolling Stone also published a statement (which they quickly retracted) distancing themselves from Jackie and saying that their trust in her had been “misplaced”. The amended version of that statement now states that the “mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie.”

The Daily Beast columnist Michael Moynihan and CNN’s Sara Ganim discuss the Rolling Stone fallout on CNN.

Anti-feminists and various Men’s Rights Activists have used the Rolling Stone story as an excuse to question the legitimacy of sexual assault statistics in general, claiming that such statistics are inflated and that women routinely invent rape stories to assuage regrets over consensual sex.


There are still many unknowns in this case and it is not helpful to speculate either way on what may or may not have occurred back in 2012. Those are now matters for the police.

But there are things that we do know about sexual assault, false reporting and trauma. It’s these things that we need to remember when we hear of a story like Jackie’s.

Protests outside University of Virginia’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house (via Rolling Stone)

Here is what we do know:

1. We know that for as long as the media has been reporting on sexual assault, they have been screwing up the reporting of sexual assault. This dodgy reporting has contributed to the community’s muddied understanding of sexual assault and trauma.

2. We know that many members of the community expect victims to look and behave in a certain way after an assault. Many people expect victims to act ‘hysterical’, report to the police immediately, display noticeable physical injuries, have a complete memory of the event, have no prior experience of sexual assault etc – but this is rarely the case.

3. We know that trauma effects memory. As one psychologist once explained it to me: imagine that your brain is like a filing cabinet and each memory is a file neatly placed in chronological order. A traumatic event effectively empties the entire filing cabinet on the floor. Files get jumbled up. Some get lost. Many get placed back in the wrong order. Papers sometimes slip between folders by accident. So when a rape victim’s story doesn’t add up or if it has holes, this is not necessarily evidence that she is lying. On the contrary, it is often evidence of trauma.


“When a rape victim’s story doesn’t add up or if it has holes…it is often evidence of trauma .” NOTE: This is a stock image.

4. We know that, aside from trauma, there are other reasons rape victims sometimes change their accounts, and that this does not mean that a rape has not taken place. Rape victims are aware of, and highly sensitised to victim-blaming and shaming attitudes within the community, and many victims omit or change certain details of a rape to appear more sympathetic. This does not mean that a rape has not occurred, but rather that our community has not, as yet, managed to create an environment where victims feel safe enough to be able to tell their stories honestly and without fear of judgement. This is our failing, not theirs.

5. We know that false rape allegations are real, but they occur very rarely.  For example, while some MRAs claim that as many as 41% of sexual assault reports are falsified, the truer number stands at about 2%. This is the same rate of false reports of all crimes – but it’s rare for a false-report of another type of crime- such as a mugging- used to then cast doubt on the credibility all other mugging victims. (In other words, human beings sometimes lie about being the victim of a crime, but this is in no way specific to either rape or women). Further, of women who do make false rape complaints, only a fraction of them actually accuse someone specific. This negates the notion that false accusations are driven first and foremost by revenge, as per the common MRA narrative.


6. We know that males are far more likely to be a victim of sexual assault , than be falsely accused of it, and that groups who advocate on behalf of men would be far better off focussing on this issue.

“The most common lie that women tell in relation to sexual assault is…that it was ‘probably my own fault'”.

7. We know that the overwhelming majority of sexual assaults are never reported to police and that under-reporting, not falsified reporting is a far more prevalent issue for both males and females. Despite this, false-reports garner far more media interest and air-time than confirmed reports of rape.

8. We know that one in five women will experience sexual assault and that the most common lie that women tell in relation to sexual assault is not that it happened at all, but that it was “probably my own fault”.

9.We know that college fraternities have a long history of sexual assault complaints against them and that universities have been widely accused of participating in systemic cover-ups of “embarrassing’’ episodes.

10. And finally, we know that now more than ever, we must encourage other women to keep coming forward and telling their stories. Because we cannot afford to be diverted by one case and lose sight of a much, much bigger picture.