We will almost certainly never know for sure what actually happened to Jackie, the troubled young woman at the center of the now-discredited Rolling Stone tale of rape and impunity at the University of Virginia that riveted the nation for two weeks before it came apart. She may be a mentally ill fantasist; she may have experienced a less brutal sexual assault and either deliberately exaggerated or sincerely reimagined it as the grotesque horror she recounted to writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely; she may have suffered some other trauma. Many fear that the story’s undoing may hurt the credibility of real rape victims, and one can only hope that doesn’t happen. But the UVA fiasco should destroy the credibility of the feminist crusade against “rape culture,” whose virulent zealotry and disregard for truth have been starkly exposed by this scandal.
The uncritical rush to embrace of Rolling Stone story attests to the toxic climate created by this crusade. Erdely’s article should have quickly set off alarm bells (mine went off on the second reading). The preplanned initiation-ritual gang rape in which “Clockwork Orange”-level ultraviolence meets “Silence of the Lambs” (“Grab its motherf—–g leg,” yells one of the men); the reaction of the victim’s friends who see her disheveled and bloodied yet talk her out of going to the police or to the hospital because being “the girl who cried rape” would carry a social stigma; the nonchalance of the frat boy who casually chats her up shortly after engineering the attack—it all seems highly implausible, reading more like a rape-culture morality tale than a factual account. And that’s not even to mention the fact that Jackie supposedly endured three hours of rape while lying on sharp shards of glass from a smashed coffee table; or that later, when she had become an anti-rape activist on campus, a man supposedly threw a beer bottle at her as she walked past a bar and it broke on the side of her face but left only a bruise.