Saturday, November 22, 2014

Rolling Stone: A Rape On Campus: A Brutal Assault And Struggle For Justice At UVA

   This hit the internet like a bomb.
   I was prepared to be outraged... If true, of course, it is horrific almost beyond belief. However, honestly, the account does not sound very plausible to me. That counts for very little, of course, and I don't make much of such initial judgments of plausibility--even my own. There's little doubt in my mind that a UVA frat is the kind of place that has more than the average number of assholes and psychopaths. But the story of seven guys attacking the alleged victim without preamble for hours on end with a party going on downstairs, referring to her as 'it' and so does strain credulity a bit. My credulity, at any rate. That may, of course, be wishful thinking. As terrible as a false accusation of rape is, that's the best-case scenario here. Then there is the strange account of her friends, immediately after the alleged gang rape, attempting to talk her out of calling the police on the grounds that it would harm her social standing. She also claims that she was attacked on the Corner for having spoken out about the incident, and that her alleged assailant threw a bottle at her, breaking it on her face and leaving her bruised and cut. At least these other parts of the story should be verifiable or falsifiable--the friends who came to get her should be able to testify, and one would think that there would be a police report about the bottle incident, or at least some witnesses.
   A fairly quick Googling reveals virtually no skepticism about the account, so perhaps I'm some kind of lunatic outlier.
   Of course innocent until proven guilty is a legal standard, not a moral one, but it seems notable to me that there seems to be a rush to judgment here. Of course it's difficult to hear an account like this without becoming outraged, and it's difficult to believe that someone would make up such a story. I suppose all there is for it is to hope that the truth comes out in some very clear way, and that justice is done, whatever that might come to.


Blogger The Mystic said...

Allow me to add some independent observation which corroborates yours, for I thought of the exact same things you mention here. As soon as I saw the alleged dialogue include a reference to her as "it," I immediately suspected a bit of embellishment on behalf of the storyteller. I assumed, actually, that the reporter had done this, maybe latching onto a moment in which the victim misspoke or something.

And you don't even mention the alleged meetings with the guy who initiated this ambush gang rape after the fact during which he acts as if nothing happened.

As you note, it's possible, but it seems wildly improbable. That's a serious level of psychosis. Also as you note, it's hard to tell if this is really just wishful thinking on our behalf or not, but even with my degree of cynicism regarding the average moral character of humans on this planet (which seems to me to be far worse than yours), it still seems unlikely.

For a final, more egocentric note: when I read stuff like this, I can't help but think "WHY DOES THIS NEVER HAPPEN WHEN I'M THERE TO SEE IT!?" I've never in my life had such a license to dispense an ass-kicking as that which would be granted if I saw some guy yell at a girl and fling a beer bottle which breaks on her face (which also seems wildly improbable purely from a consideration of the physics required there). It's hard to believe that people would stand by and watch that occur. In the throngs of people on the Corner, not one was interested in kicking the ass of such an evil asshole? Not one?

It is hard to believe that any of this happens, but frankly, if it's true, I would be more vindicated in my outlook on life than challenged, so while I doubt the veracity of much of the story as it stands, that's more out of a desire to examine my own fallibility than anything else.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Right, I forgot about the meetings with the alleged ringleader. If her account of things is true, then that guy is a complete psychopath.

I haven't been paying much attention to the outside world for the last couple of weeks, and I now remember how unhappy the internet makes me.

On the one hand the very idea of rape is something that's always made me seethe with anger. On the other hand, I'm very concerned about the current rape crisis hysteria, especially on campuses. And I'm astonished that everyone seems to be falling all over themselves to announce their uncritical acceptance of a story that --or so it seems to me--ought to be viewed with at least a little bit of skepticism.

11:47 AM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Oh, one counter-skepticism note of interest: Phi Kappa Psi voluntarily surrendered their status as a fraternity.

I can't imagine an organization of innocent people failing to fight such horrific allegations if they were false. That alone makes me think this story is at the minimum not entirely fabricated. Of course, the various witnesses of this victim's life going from happy-go-lucky to completely ruined in a day is also, if true, solid evidence that something horrible happened.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Good points.

I didn't really understand what that amounted to. I didn't know whether it was some kind of probation-like status or what. If the frat is basically disbanding itself (or that chapter or however that stuff works), that does seem like important evidence.

Jesus, I just can't believe that universities try to handle this stuff.

Though my faith in the justice system is currently at an all-time I'm not sure I trust the obvious alternative that much more...

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Jim Bales said...

A few thoughts:
1) It is ridiculous that universities are expected (and obligated) to handle these cases. They lack the skills, experience, processes, and culture to investigate and prosecute such cases.

2) If one wanted to assess the likelihood of the accounts being true, one might consider recent examples of widespread abuse that was covered up (or simply ignored) by an organization, and recent examples of false rape accusations. Then one could compare the accounts in Rolling Stone to those historical examples and ask if the behavior described is closer to that of victims in the former or of false accusers in the latter.

For the former, one might consider the abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests in the US and abroad and the churches response, the abuse of children by Jerry Sandusky at Penn State and the University's response, the Tailhook scandal, and sexual assault in the military and the military response.

(FWIW, according to Wikipedia, "A 2012 Pentagon survey found that approximately 26,000 women and men were sexually assaulted. Of those, only 3,374 cases were reported")

(Of the three, the military is probably the most relevant, as the actors are often of comparable ages as university students. The first two, however, are good reference points as to how really bad things can occur systematically within an organization and be covered up or ignored.)

For the latter, one might consider the case of Crystal Mangum's false accusations against the Duke Lacrosse team and Tawana Brawley's false accusations of gang rape. (Are there other high-profile examples I am not recalling?)

Finally, one might note from the Rolling Stone article that in 2005 a UVA alum, and member of the same fraternity, came forward and admitted to having taken part in a gang rape at that fraternity in 1984. In that case the victim was unconscious (presumably from drinking the punch the fraternity served) while in the Rolling Stone account the victim did not drink the punch and was conscious throughout the rape.

Given that history, it seems plausible to me that such events were at least tolerated by the fraternity.


12:12 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...


I completely agree with 1.

As for 2: I also agree, though, to be clear, I was simply assuming that both sides of the story are plausible in roughly your sense, the sense of *genuine possibilities.*

When I said "the story doesn't sound very plausible to me," I meant exactly that: I wouldn't put in on the more plausible end of the spectrum, as accounts of violent crimes go.

And, yeah, the Duke lacrosse case did come to mind.

Fortunately, there's no reason for any of us to draw any kind of conclusion yet.

Jesus, what a nightmare.

12:27 PM  
Anonymous Jim Bales said...

I get the need to be skeptical and wanting to see proof, but there is a big difference between "this is possible and must be pursued" and "wildly improbable" (Mystic) or even that Jackie's account "strain[s] credulity a bit" WS.

Again, I note that there is a similar case from that fraternity 20 years ago. The victim, Liz Seccuro, reported the crime to the university, and when she appeared before a dean "covered in scabs and with broken ribs", and she was asked 'Do you think it was just regrettable sex?'. Then she was lied to and told the police had no jurisdiction.

Note that the only reason we know that the earlier case happened is because one of the perpetrators confessed 20 years after the fact, and because the victim got his name from an envelope in the trash when she came to.

Given the low probability of getting a definitive answer in the one case we have that answer means that it is likely that there are more such assaults that are unproved.

Given that we know of other organizations (e.g., the Roman Catholic Church, Penn State, the branches of our Armed Forces) that have allowed patterns of sexual assaults to persist over decades, it is reasonable to accept the possibility of this happening at UVA (and other universities).

I am not calling for drawing a conclusion, but I wanted to cite the context that, to my mind, makes Jackie's claim of forcible gang rape over many hours plausible.

If you doubt it's plausibility, then go and read the accounts of the assaults by Mr. Sandusky, or of the victims of some of the Roman Catholic priests. (Of course, you will feel soiled and demeaned by what you have read, which is nothing compared to what the victims experienced.)

Such things as Jackie claims have happened when perpetrators felt protected by their institutions. Such things as Jackie claims have happened at UVA and we only know they did because of a very unlikely set of circumstances. Therefore, Jackie's claims are plausible, although the truth of her claims is unknown.


2:26 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Well, Jim, neither of us were denying the possibilities your citations seem to be intended to bolster as genuine. I was saying it seems wildly improbable to me that a person could lead a woman into such a brutal ambush and then act as though nothing ever happened to the extent of appearing genuinely puzzled regarding the reason she doesn't want to continue dating him.

I don't think your evidence really moved against the points I cited as seeming improbable. As WS says, it's all possible but it requires such a serious degree of psychosis on behalf of a number of actors that it seems improbable.

However, as I pointed out, the wildly implausible parts may well be slight embellishments. It seems, for example, quite implausible that a psychotic frat boy would have the presence of mind to intentionally eschew grammatic accuracy solely to make a dehumanizing point. It also seems implausible that a 20-something frat boy would be so psychotic that he would still attempt to date the girl he just led into a gang rape.

I recognize, of course, that horrendous crimes occur, but this seems atypically extreme to the extent that I question the veracity of the components I list above, along with some others.

But, as my second comment said, I don't really doubt that something horrible happened, and I don't doubt that it involved rape. I gave reasons to believe that against skepticism above, as well.

3:30 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...


I don't see that anything you've written here calls into doubt my claim that the account "strains credulity a bit." You will note that that claim is fairly modest.

You seem to be under the mistaken impression that someone argued that gang rapes do not happen, or that the gang rape aspect of the case, *per se*, was the implausible part of the account. If you read what I (and the Mystic) wrote, you'll see that that isn't the case. No one wrote anything like "gang rapes don't happen."

Take the older gang rape referenced in the piece. All that shows is that gang rapes happen, and have happened at UVA--which no one has denied. The case does not actually count much toward the plausibility of the case at hand, because it is *extremely* different. There the victim was unconscious or semi-conscious, and in fact did not even realize that a gang rape had occurred for years. An unconscious victim makes it far easier to get away with such a crime, and thus it's more plausible that people would try to do so. One of the things that makes the new allegation less plausible is that it would be so easy for the victim to identify the perpetrators.

However, I'm not that familiar with details of sexual assault cases, so it might very well be that the case in question fits a well-known and common pattern. It is not the kind of pattern I have seen reported much in the news--to the best of my knowledge, it's an uncommon type of event. Perhaps you know better, of course.

I probably don't have the stomach to read the accounts you suggest, though I'm not sure how relevant child abuse cases are to this case, either. As with unconsciousness, the youth of victims gives the perpetrator better odds of escaping discovery and prosecution. Such cases aren't evidentially weightless, but they don't carry *much* weight here.

Your point that many institutions have allowed sexual assault to persist is true, but I'm having a hard time seeing how it bears much on the plausibility of this particular case... Of course it would give assailants evidence that they could get away with it...and that's relevant.

So, do we know that "such things as Jackie claims have happened at UVA"? Well...sorta... We know crimes have happened, we know that rapes have happened, and we know of one gang-rape that happened...under very different circumstances. But of course that was taken for granted, and never denied. Neither I nor the Mystic said anything like "there is virtually no chance that a gang rape could happen at UVa, so this account is implausible."

However, the account given in Rolling Stone is an account of a much more audacious and brutal crime than the older one. A rapist would have to be even crazier than the average rapist to believe that he had good enough odds of getting away with such a crime. Add to that that the suspect details in the account already discussed above, and I simply can't see how "strains credulity a bit" is anything like excessively skeptical.



3:32 PM  
Anonymous Jim Bales said...


You write:
"I was saying it seems wildly improbable to me that a person could lead a woman into such a brutal ambush and then act as though nothing ever happened to the extent of appearing genuinely puzzled regarding the reason she doesn't want to continue dating him."

OK -- since the "wildly improbable" is in a separate paragraph the particular thing found improbable, I took "wildly improbable" to describe all of the above.

So, I Googled "my rapist wanted to be friends" and 5 of the top 10 hits describe exactly that. Furthermore, I know of two cases of close friends who were raped where their rapists were upset that the victims wanted to break all ties to their rapist.

As to the alleged rapists calling Jackie "it" rather than "her", it need not have been spur of the moment.

There is a long history of dehumanizing people by calling them animals (consider the depiction of Japanese in the US during WWII, and vice versa).

Furthermore, such a gang rape is likely planned and not spontaneous, and it is plausible that in the planning, the planners used the neuter pronoun to help them diminish the magnitude of their acts.

But, again, perhaps I am wrong.


11:11 PM  
Anonymous Jim Bales said...


I'm hard pressed to see why the account of 7 men conducting a gang rap under the direction of two others in an upstairs room of a fraternity while a loud party continues on the ground floor is somehow more audacious than Jerry Sandusky raping a child in a locker room shower where staff or students could find him.

That also shows the relevance of the church, Penn State, Tailhook, and Military examples -- sexual assaults and rapes being carried out in a comparably audacious manner as alleged by Jackie.

Because similarly audacious assaults have taken place in locations more public than Jackie's alleged assault, her account does not strain credulity, IMHO.

(This was my understanding of Mystic's "wildly implausible" -- I stand corrected.)

"[W]e know of one gang-rape that happened". Yes -- and the fact that we know this is because of a rather unlikely set of circumstances.

So either that one gang rape was a low-probability occurrence which we happen to know about because of another low-probability occurrence, or the one we know of is one of a larger number of such events, and - through unusual circumstances – only that one became public.

The latter is far more likely than the former, even though both are possible.

Another relevance of the examples I cite is that they show that institutions can and have protected and supported rapists and minimized and marginalized victims. Phi Kappa Psi itself is an institution, one in which a gang rape occurred (an incident that we only know of from a low-probability set of events). Note that Phi Kappa Psi did nothing to punish those involved in that rape.

The possibility exists that the brothers of Phi Kappa Psi institutionalized raping UVA coeds. (That is as audacious as Sandusky or the raping priests. It is, in fact, similar to the actions in Abu Ghraib by Lynndie England and her fellow servicemen.) Such institutionalized rape would explain why "her date, Drew, and another man – gave instruction and encouragement" but did not rape her.

Now, is there evidence of this? Only in Jackie's story. Is it wildly improbable? No more so than what men and women in the uniform of our armed services did to prisoners in Abu Ghraib.

So, “strains credulity a bit”? Fair enough, it is not a strong claim. But our recent history has multiple confirmed examples of organizations becoming havens for consistent and systematic sexual abuse (and worse). Given that history, it is reasonable to ask if Phi Kappa Psi at UVA was another such organization.


11:39 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Did you google "My gang rapist doesn't understand why we aren't still a couple"?

6:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

May of the details of the story seemed improbable to me -- falling through a glass coffee table without serious cuts that required medical attention, the rape lasting three hours, her friends' reaction, etc.

For me though, the most unlikely part of the story was that nine smart and ambitious young men would all willingly take part in the gang rape of a conscious female who could immediately go to the police and ruin their futures.

These were former high school honor students -- kids with goals and ambition and a mental picture of their futures that didn't include prison. I have a a hard time believing that nine of them would all agree in advance to rape someone who could identify them later, or that when the rape started that none of them would say "I can't be a part of this."

I have no trouble believing that they were entitled douches, or that any one or two of them would rape someone thinking they could get away with it by saying it was consensual.

It seems wildly improbable to me, though, that nine intelligent young men would all have no moral compass and no thought for their own futures when this incident allegedly began.

I suspect when all is said in done what actually happened at the fraternity house that night will be significantly different from what was reported in Rolling Stone.

9:19 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Well, like you, A, I don't have any problem believing that you can easily find 7 douchebags in a UVa frat. Unlike you, however, I guess I think you might very well even find 7 psychopaths of the kind described in the piece.

It's the prudential part that I find even more implausible--that 7 such guys--even evil ones--would take such a gamble. What are the odds that the victim is *not* going to go to the police? Or at least to the university. Are they really high enough to risk?

Compare to the older account, in which the victim was unconscious. It seems, from the perspective of the calculating psychopath, that that is a much safer bet. THAT kind of thing seems much more likely to me.

Again, though, these are hunches, and not much more.

1:41 PM  

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