Trust

The bitch lied.

That’s what Rolling Stone had to say for itself today, after questions about the magazine’s story on an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia grew to a fever pitch. Oh, the statement used different words, saying its trust had been misplaced, and some other shit I was too enraged to read.

But that’s what it meant. And that’s what the next five, 20, 100, 1000 women who gather their courage to come forward and report their rapes are going to hear. Out loud or in the minds of police, family members, society.

You don’t get such an easy way out, Rolling Stone. As a woman, as a journalist for 18 years, you offend me. Your trust was not misplaced. Your reporting was shit. Your vetting was nonexistent. Your editing was brain-dead.

Maybe you were lied to. People lie to reporters all the time. Reporters dig deeper. Reporters find facts.

Reporters don’t take dictation. Reporters don’t rely on a single source. Reporters find corroborating evidence. Reporters don’t surrender editorial control to get the story.

Maybe the woman at the heart of the Rolling Stone piece did lie to the magazine. That’s on Rolling Stone, not her.  I don’t know what happened to the woman, what her reasons may have been for telling her story, what she hoped to accomplish if in fact she was not being honest. But I do know what journalists are supposed to do. So rather than conveniently blame-shifting to the alleged victim, let’s place the responsibility at the feet of those who should have known – and done – better.

And let’s place this at their feet, too. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAIIN), an American is sexually assaulted every two minutes. 

One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. That translates to 17.7 million women.

The FBI estimates that just 2 percent of rape and related sex charges are determined to be false, the same percentage as for other felonies. But try telling that to the next skeptical detective who asks a college student what she was wearing or how much she'd had to drink when she reports a rape. (Although the odds of that scenario playing out are depressingly slim: The results of a national survey commissioned by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and the Senate Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight found that 41 percent of U.S. four-year colleges haven’t conducted a single sexual assault investigation in the past five years.)

The reasons for that are varied, but there can be little doubt that the fear of not being believed, of being put on trial for personal choices, plays a huge role. It could, of course, mean that these colleges do not have a rape problem. Just like America does not have a race problem.

One out of every six. How many women do you know?

So no, Rolling Stone, you’re not excused. It’s not your trust that has been violated.