How to support sexual assault survivors in the wake of the Rolling Stone scandal

There have been some major strides in raising awareness about the problem of sexual assault on campus lately. Rolling Stone’s feature story about a campus rape at University of Virginia last month initially fueled the positive momentum— helping to force the issue into mainstream conversation. But when the story hit the Internet, details were picked apart and the facts of the reported story did not seem to line up. Now, it seems the story, once poised to help in the fight for safer campuses nationwide, has been pointed to as a setback for this incredibly important movement.

Rolling Stone may be reeling from the backlash, but survivors of sexual assault are the victims in this scenario. Firstly, there was the way the retraction was handled. This past Friday, managing editor Will Dana published an editor’s note at the top of the piece that reads as follows:

“There now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced.”

In an updated apology on Saturday, the magazine rephrased their statement, saying instead:

“These mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie.”

While it was the right move for Rolling Stone to correct its apology, it is beyond disappointing that Rolling Stone’s initial impulse was to pass the blame off onto their subject rather than own up to the shortcomings in their reportage, and that the magazine seemingly only changed their stance on the issue as a result of the pushback it received from its victim-blaming.

Meanwhile, the magazine’s questionable journalistic approach to covering such a heated topic has led to concerns—not only for the safety of their subject—but for the uphill battle to change the way survivors of sexual assault are perceived.

Despite the fact that as little as 2 percent of rape claims are fabricated according to the Enliven Project, a mere suggestion of inconsistencies in a survivor’s story, is held up as a way to invalidate assault claims in general. Writes the Atlantic’s Olga Khazan:

We live in a world in which we are pressured to treat survivors of sexual assault with the utmost skepticism. Now if Rolling Stone’s feature story becomes an excuse for ignorant people, administrators and officials to mistrust survivor accounts, the onus will be on survivors themselves.

There’s enough out there that’s hurting survivors of sexual assault. The question now becomes what can we who want to support do to help? Here’s a list of options well-worth considering:

Listen, Listen, Listen

Whether it’s someone you know and love telling you about their experience or you’re reading a stranger’s account of an assault online, remember, when in doubt, listen. You are listening to someone who is an expert about their experience, listening is often the best way to participate in this exchange. It’s also important now, more than ever, to note how many women go through such unbelievable trauma due to pervasive rape culture and lack of administrative action. Buzzfeed recently published several personal accounts from survivors opening up about their experiences, particularly in the aftermath of an assault. They are both eye-opening takes on the challenges of dealing with such trauma and reminders of how pervasive this problem really is.

In terms of offering support to someone you know personally, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) has a comprehensive primer, as does Band Back Together and Pandora’s Project.

Vocally Support Survivors

Whether the conversation is happening on Facebook or IRL, you can be a vocal ally. The more educated you are on the subject, the more comfortable you’ll be speaking out in support of survivors and shutting down victim-blamers and rape apologists. If you’re engaging on social media, hashtags like #EndVictimBlaming lend support while mobilizing a community to join forces in solidarity. Meanwhile, the hashtag #IStandWithJackie has emerged in light of the Rolling Stone scandal to express support for other survivors of sexual assault, and give strength to those who might now be afraid of coming forward to report a rape.

Stay politically active

Support state bills aimed at making campuses safer. Earlier this year, California’s Yes Means Yes bill was passed thanks to heaps of support from activists. This month, a Virginia House of Delegates member filed a bill that would make it mandatory for colleges to report sexual assaults to local commonwealth attorneys within 2 days of an incident being reported. Send the message to local constituents in support of measures like this that protect victims and raise awareness about sexual assault on campus.

Support Sexual Assault Awareness Movements

If you’re in the market for a volunteer gig, you should really consider donating your time to a rape crisis center or hotline. Giving your time, your energy, your support, and your heart, can do so many people a world of good. You can also make a difference by joining activist groups and peaceful protests on campus. Pact 5, “Where is Your Line” and Carry That Weight Together are some organizations that mobilize students to make a difference on their own campuses through activism and media projects. Meanwhile, the sexual assault and violence prevention organization, “No More,” provides students with a toolkit for launching awareness-raising campaigns on their own campus.

Sexual assault on campus is real and it’s happening far too often around the country. We can’t let controversy silence  victims, minimize their experiences or overshadow the fight to end rape culture.

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