WARNING: if you're easily upset, hit the back button now. I'm not going to pull my punches.
The Jackie Coakley story has had an impact on three main areas:
- rape culture
- journalism as a profession
- academia and college life
I'm going to examine these through a political lens, i.e. my personal communitarian conservative viewpoint as I'd find it impossible not to. In admitting this before I dig in, I'm stating firmly that the only side I ever take in the culture wars are my own. I lean towards the liberal side sometimes because I value my personal freedom as a woman but it doesn't mean I share the anything goes mentality that seems to be integral to the liberal viewpoint. Now that we've got that straight I'm going in.
Whether you like it or not, rape culture is a thing. By "rape culture" I mean there is a culture that connives at, encourages, and dismisses the abuse of female persons and it exists in every corner of the globe. That the liberal/lefties have seized on this as a weapon in the culture wars has caused reactionary right wingers to go haring off in the opposite direction, Trump's recent video revelation is a prime example. His supporters merely hand-wave away his bad behaviour because the other side is just as bad if not worse, or something.
When the story broke at first it was a shocking indictment of a broken system in which the reputation of the institution trumps justice itself, and it came so soon after Steubenville I actually found it hard not to believe it. Now when you look into the Steubenville case, in which every allegation has been corroborated and proven in a court of law, you see parallels between what Jackie was saying and what was going on there: the drunkenness, the fact that people were behaving badly while others either joined in or did nothing, then everyone blaming the victim afterwards until it came to the attention of the public. Steubenville changed everything; it confronted us with the horror of young lads nonchanantly dragging this unconscious girl around and using her for their entertainment, uninterested in her welfare. When I read "A Rape On Campus" that is what I saw there, and yes, I believed it because I totally could. It had happened before.
Now that the story has been thoroughly discredited all bets are off. We're back to "you must be a liar" territory. I'm confronted once again with the face of "Dorothy," a young black woman in Birmingham traumatised by the experience after reporting her rape to the police, then returning home covered in mud and blood, her clothes torn, having been told that she must have had a fight with her boyfriend so they weren't going to get involved. Way to go, Kidderminster police! I watched her eczema go nuts as she struggled through the resultant pregnancy, which ended in miscarriage. I believed Dorothy. I still do. But that was "rape-rape," the violent assault by a stranger we've been told is "legitimate." What about the ones where you're plied with drink, used and abused, then wake up naked and alone in a strange room? Doesn't that count as rape? What about the one where you're okay with him going in the front, but not in the back, but he turns you over and does it anyway. Doesn't that count as rape? She said no, damn it.
The damage done
The damage Jackie has done to the cause of women's rights and the fight against rape culture is incalculable. She is the poster child for the myth of the lying female out to entrap men so she can get them into trouble for her own nefarious ends. It's too bad that, instead of taking a "due process for all" approach in which the facts are carefully examined to determine the truth of the matter, people appear to be returning to culture war tropes, further entrenching themselves in their original positions. If a real case like the one related by Jackie when she was lying to the Rolling Stone actually happens, will the victim be believed?
Journalism as a profession
The trouble with the culture wars is that a) there are two sides and b) each of them is deeply entrenched. On the right is the Angry White Males and their families, etc., who feel that they are being attacked and marginalised as a group. They're paranoid and occasionally violent and tend to see anyone who disagrees with them as a direct personal threat. Reporting on rape culture is seen as a case in point since they themselves tend to be the focus of such reporting. Journalism has taken a bit of a bashing lately. Even my favourite tech blog, Techdirt, tends to rag on journalists who don't challenge the status quo as "stenographers." That it's true is half of the point; journalists are expected to fearlessly report "just the facts" but these days it seems they're either reporting "the propaganda" or whatever advances their personal agenda. And when they do this, by abandoning the facts when it suits them, they alienate the people who ought to be able to trust them and bring their profession into disrepute.
It's their job to tell the truth
Journalism not backed up by facts is mere gossip.
A responsible journalist digs for the truth, she doesn't just take her subject's agenda and run with it. That isn't journalism, that's "gossip," and like all gossip, it doesn't do anything positive for anyone. - Should we always believe the victim? by Marc Randazza for CNN
I don't care what the statistics are, even one lie is too many. While I don't want to see anyone suffer injustice like poor Dorothy did, I don't want a horde of righteous social justice warriors to make students and teachers' lives a misery because some little bint with a bunny-boiler crush on a dude wants to make him feel sorry for her. The story had a lot of holes in it but Erdely was on a roll and Jackie's story was dynamite. Apparently Jackie's still standing by it. Meanwhile, Erdely was heavily reliant on political partisans pushing a social justice agenda for assistance in understanding the issues — and Jackie's erratic behaviour.
The damage done
Basically, you can push an agenda or do journalism but you can't do both. In a world where opinion is given the same weight as fact, this is increasingly common and we're all suffering as a result. The only thing we can do is fact-check and cross-reference as much as possible but bias filtering is inevitable, particularly where the echo-chamber sets are concerned. The failure on the part of Sabrina Erdely and her colleagues at the Rolling Stone to check the facts and cross-reference the sources brought Erdely down and destroyed her reputation. It made the Rolling Stone look flippin' stupid and cost them a great deal of credibility. Worse than that, when the liberal and feminist press got into the story, they insisted that there was enough "truth" in it that it was worth pursuing, even after it had been debunked, because women suffer abuse, so it was "a truth, just not the truth." That's what passes for logic among certain liberals but I've got no time for that. Ultimately, it has the opposite of the intended effect so has no real value. The Rolling Stone may well discover tonight exactly what that means when the damages are awarded. I just hope it doesn't go under like Gawker did. It's easier to defend the Rolling Stone than it is to defend Gawker, though.
Academia and college life
American academia has taken a bit of a bashing in the media. From stories of free speech zones to safe spaces, trigger warnings, micro-aggressions and terrified teachers to rapey campus prowlers the question arises as to whether or not students actually learn anything at college.
The other side of rape culture
The other side of rape culture is the victim-first political correctness that is, in essence, well-intentioned but pretends that the complainant is incapable of lying.This creates a host of problems in which male students find themselves confronted with a mass of rules that make normal interaction with other students problematic. For example, the new "affirmative consent" laws put the onus on students to prove they've had consent before engaging in sex. Well without a written contract how do you do that? We all do daft things when we're drunk; if two drunk people get it on but the next day the girl is like, "What have I done? And who the hell is that?" and the guy goes, "Uh, hi. What's your name again?" I'd find it hard to call that rape. Slut-shaming is an aspect of rape culture, usually in which the victim is painted as a liar who regrets having given in to sin, kind of thing. In the case of the drunken encounter, it manifests as "I'm not that kind of girl, so it must have been rape." If the counsellor agrees, that's some poor lad's college career down the crapper because the girl can't just take a morning after pill, put the incident down to experience, and move on. Ultimately, while it may have a chilling effect on hookup culture (not that there's any evidence that this is happening), out on campus most students appear to be finding it too unwieldy to actually implement in practice.
UVA dean Nicola Eramo filed a defamation suit against Rolling Stone and reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely, seeking $7.85 million in damages. She's won the case, the court is now determining damages. Having been portrayed as being more concerned with the university's reputation than with the safety of the students, she has suffered and does, in my opinion, deserve to be exonerated and compensated. The fraternity also suffered damage to their reputation and had their activities curtailed. Greek life in general came under scrutiny as a result of Jackie's lies. There is a positive development: bystander intervention courses are being provided and a dialogue about how to deal with sexual assault has been opened.
The reverberations of the Jackie Coakley story will continue until well after the damages awarded to Dean Eramo have been settled. It will go down in the false report annals to be dredged up as an example of the lies told by certain attention-seekers to garner sympathy for themselves, thereby diverting support and sympathy from those victims who actually deserve it. If there's a lesson to be learned at all it's that it's important to establish the facts, however emotional the report. There really is no other way to protect ourselves from being scammed by a liar or suckered into taking a side in the culture wars, neither of which appeals to me.