On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
A freshman at her first fraternity function followed her date upstairs to escape the loud noise of the party. He led her into a darkened room where she says seven men raped her as her date encouraged them. A Rolling Stone article about an alleged gang rape and other sexual assaults at the University of Virginia has rocked the campus, prompted the UVA president to suspend the fraternities until January. It’s also sparked a debate about why it’s so hard to treat rape as a violent crime. We talk with the Rolling Stone contributing editor who wrote the story. (Editors Note: since the original airing of this segment, Rolling Stone has acknowledged discrepancies in the account at the center of its article and issued an apology to those affected by its publication.)
- Sabrina Rubin Erdely Contributing Editor, Rolling Stone
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, an Armenian-American journalist questions why one event a century ago seems to define her existence. But first, the 18-year-old freshman was at her first frat party, invited by a junior who was a fellow lifeguard at the campus pool.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIShe didn't drink, but did follow him upstairs to escape the loud noise of the party. He led her into a pitch black room where she says seven different men raped her, one after the other, as her date encouraged them. The woman did not report the assault to the police, but did talk with a campus official and more recently with a writer for Rolling Stone magazine.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWhen the story of the alleged gang rape was published last week, it rocked the tradition-bound campus and lead the president to suspend all fraternities until next semester. Public officials in Virginia, including the governor and a senator, called for action to address the culture of sexual assault at UVA and other college campuses, but some say it's hard to change the campus culture when society, at large, still has trouble viewing rape as a violent crime rather than a case of sexual miscommunication.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining me to look at sexual assault on college campuses and changing attitudes about it is Sabrina Rubin Erdely. She a freelance writer. It was her story, "A Rape On Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle For Justice At UVA," that was published in Rolling Stone last week. She joins us by phone. Sabrina Erdely, thank you for joining us.
MS. SABRINA RUBIN ERDELYThank you having me, Kojo.
NNAMDI800-433-8850, is our number if you'd like to join the conversation. You can call right now. What do you think college campuses should be doing to address sexual assault on campus. 800-433-8850. Sabrina, why did you choose to write about sexual assault at the University of Virginia? Is it different from other schools?
ERDELYWell, actually, the reason why I ultimately chose University of Virginia is because I was looking for a campus that was fairly representative of what was happening across the board, you know. Because rape on campus is so prominent in the news, we at Rolling Stone were really looking to explore what that looks like, what rape on campus really means and who it plays out in the greater college culture.
ERDELYSo I looked around at a number of different campuses before I decided on University of Virginia. Even though what I found at University of Virginia is truly disturbing, and there are some aspects to it that are unique to its culture, really the most frightening part is that I have a reason to believe that this culture at University of Virginia, that of degradation of women, sexual assaults, the indifference to rape victims, this is in no way unique to the University of Virginia.
ERDELYThis is probably typical of colleges across the country.
NNAMDIIn reaction to your article, UVA President Teresa Sullivan suspended fraternities on campus until January 9 and a variety of elected officials have expressed concern about sexual violence on college campuses. Do you think those actions, those statements will change anything?
ERDELYWell, I think it's encouraging that things are happening. I know that people have been reacting to the shutting down of the fraternities over winter break is just being some kind of slap on the wrist. Other people are celebrating it as the fraternities being shut down permanently. I don't think either analysis is correct. But I think it's just them sort of hitting the pause button, appropriately, so that, hopefully, they can take thoughtful steps about what to do next.
ERDELYI do expect some dramatic changes in the future, but it is important that those changes be thoughtful because, as you said, these are deep-rooted issues and it's going to take a lot of work to dredge up all the root causes and it's going to require something that's not just something swift and symbolic.
NNAMDIOur guest is Sabrina Rubin Erdely. She's a freelance writer. Her story, "A Rape On Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle For Justice at UVA" was published in Rolling Stone last week. A lot of people consider rape to be, well, a hazy realm of he said/she said, a hard-to-judge zone of sexual miscommunication. But one study found that nine of 10 sexual assaults on college campuses are committed by serial rapists. What does that study say and what does it tell us about current views of campus rape?
ERDELYThat's right. You know, it's interesting. You know, one thing that I've really come across is the idea that people don't generally see rape as a crime, which sounds really shocking because, you know, in theory, everyone is anti-rape. I mean, nobody's pro-rape. But when you're faced with an actual rape victim or the fact of an actual rape, as you say, the general public doesn't tend to see it as this serious violent crime that it is. We prefer to see it as, you know, an error in judgment, a social faux pas, and so, you know, instead of holding perpetrators accountable, we tend to question the victims.
ERDELYBut there was this ground-breaking study done, as you said, in 2002 that really upended these notions. It hasn't really been absorbed by the general public yet, but it did show that 9 out of 10 -- approximately 9 out 10 rapes are actually perpetrated by serial sex offenders. These are deliberate attackers who have multiple victims, an average of six victims each. So that really changed the way people in the field view sexual assault, that by and large, these are not he said/she said blurry misunderstandings. These are deliberate attacks.
NNAMDIOnto the cell phones, here is Jim in Laurel, Maryland. Jim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JIMFirst thing, a couple quick points. First, I would say, a lot the study is -- a lot of it is she said the study said because as you said, the one in five statistic, you've said over and over in a number of shows, actually what happened, Eleanor Clift had did a article. They said there was another study which found one in 40, plus the people that did that study said -- they warned against extrapolating from those two colleges, but they've done it anyway.
JIMCathy Young and her "Guilty and Proven Innocent" article, January 2014 said two-thirds of women that were classified as being raped in the study did not think they were raped. So then, the other one, 37 percent who were, at penetration, did not consider to be rape. He also, third thing is, they said if you compared penetration with the year, men and women have the same amount. So there is a lot of ambiguity.
JIMThe second thing, I read the Rolling Stone article and I really was amazed at that lack of corroborating evidence. I mean, she says the girl -- she leaves the party. Nobody saw her di -- is there any evidence that she went and interviewed people. She says the dean said that the reason that they want to keep the statistics down because nobody wants to send their daughter to a rape school. But I don't see any time that she asked, if she corroborated it. I don't see any -- that she tried to talk to the alleged perpetrators. Thank you.
NNAMDIAllow me to have Sabrina Rubin Erdely respond.
ERDELYSure. Well, I should also point out that, you know, especially for people who haven't read the article yet is that the story of Jackie's rape is an incredibly powerful one. You know, she brought her story to the administration and they did absolutely nothing about it. But what's also important to note is that I interviewed many other victims of sexual assault at University of Virginia and the story they told was very consistent, which is the same story that Jackie tells, which is a culture that silences victims, that discourages them from reporting in the first place by their peers.
ERDELYAnd when they get to the administration, it's sort of subtly and sometimes not so subtly discourages them from moving their cases forward. So Jackie is not an isolated case.
NNAMDITo which you say, Jim in Laurel, Maryland?
JIMStill, you spent a lot of time on the campus, so why did you not corroborate the things that I mentioned, that the dean said we're trying to -- you know, if she was quoted saying something that could lose her job and you talked to her, but you didn't seem to ask...
NNAMDINobody wants to send their child to the rape campus?
JIMYes, her and any other.
ERDELYWell, I went -- Jim, I very much, very much wished to speak to that dean, but unfortunately the university did not allow me any access to that dean. They actually my access to every administrator, other than two. They were very resistant to my doing this investigation at all and they put a lot of roadblocks in my way. So I...
NNAMDIJim, thank you very much. Go ahead.
ERDELYI very much would've hoped to have gotten Dean Eramo's response to that.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Jim. You also wrote a year ago about rape in the military, another place where women often feel revictimized if they report being raped. Are there any lessons from the military's experience that can apply to college campuses? Are attitudes changing in society at large?
ERDELYYou know, I think it's really interesting. I'm glad you brought that up. I mean, this is an issue that is finally coming to the forefront. It's, frankly, a topic that few people in the general public have wanted to discuss before, but now, all of a sudden, we're having that conversation and it's kind of bursting forward on many fronts. And I would guess that when we look back on this moment, we're probably going to say that what changed the dialogue was military rape coming to the forefront.
ERDELYAnd this, of course, was after years and years of military sexual assault scandals that were, you know, sort of -- they surfaced and then were just kind of brushed aside. But a couple years back, there was a group of very motivated advocates who brought it to the forefront and because this was happening in the context of the military, it really forced the conversation to happen for the first time in the realm of men, you know, whereas this conversation had really just been kind of happening among women up until then.
ERDELYAnd so that general conversation then paved the way for student advocates at college to begin a conversation about rape on campus. And now, of course, we're reopening conversations like -- things like Bill Cosby, you know, allegations that have been around for decades and we're reexamining them. So this has always been around. I think with new -- it really is this willingness to finally acknowledge and listen to these rape victims.
ERDELYAnd, hopefully, now we'll finally begin to start really discussing the problem of sexual assault.
NNAMDIOur guest is Sabrina Rubin Erdely. She is an investigative journalist and contributing editor at Rolling Stone. Her story, "A Rape On Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle For Justice at UVA" was published in Rolling Stone last week. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Should campus officials or local police investigate campus sexual assaults? Here's Judy in Washington D.C. with a question along that line. Judy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JUDYWhat I want to ask you is, my thoughts are if I were sending my daughter off to campus at this time, I would tell her if someone forces themselves on you sexually, go to a hospital not connected to the campus and demand a rape kit and talk to the police and do not talk to an administrator from your school under any circumstances. We will hire a lawyer. Is that good advice?
ERDELYI think that that is probably the ideal. I mean, my hope is that -- I think the ideal situation is that a rape victim goes directly to the hospital and to the police. A lot of people don’t feel comfortable doing that because it is such a tremendous trauma. We can hope. I mean, one of my hopes in this article is that, you know, underscoring the seriousness of this crime, people will start to treat it like what it is, which is a violent crime that needs to be reported to the police.
ERDELYI do think that campuses don't really -- even though Title 9 requires campuses now to handle these things on campus if they're sort of tasked to by students. I really don't think that they have the capacity to do so. So I think that the police are really best equipped to handle these. These are not disciplinary problems. These are violent, you know, these are felony sex crimes that are best handled by police.
NNAMDIJudy, one of the more shocking parts of Sabrina's article is the reaction of the rape victim's friends. They discourage her from reporting the rape because they say she'll become a social outcast. Sabrina, can you talk about the mindset that says the shame belongs to the victim and that it's better not to make waves?
ERDELYYeah, that was one thing that really surprised me about the articles is the reaction that Jackie got from her fellow students when she confided in them. You know, they either didn't believe her or they downplayed the situation or they basically just told her to get over it. And they asked -- some of them, you know, the first people that she reported to, they outright told her not to report it because it would kill her reputation on campus.
ERDELYAnd what I came to discover is that her story was very consistent with that of other rape survivors at UVA and that the students themselves, tend to accept and tolerate sexual assault as being this unfortunate casualty of the party culture and they'd rather just not think about it or acknowledge it. And I do think that that is part of the larger culture. This is an attitude that's reverberating from the administration on down.
NNAMDIHere now is Dante in Manassas, Va. Dante, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANTEHey, Kojo. Answer a question. I just recently graduated just this past year from UVA and it was really upsetting to read what I read in Rolling Stone. And, you know, some of the discussions I have with people that are still there and that actually are in some of these fraternities is that they just can't believe that everything in the story was actually true.
DANTEI mean, you can never imagine being in a house where a rape was taking place between seven frat brothers in Phi Psi and then nobody did anything. Nobody stepped up. And when she left the party, nobody even, like, confronted her. And then when she confronted her friends, you know, nobody suggested that she go to the police or go to the administration.
DANTESo I'm not saying that this girl was lying in any way. It's extremely terrible and I don't even understand why she would ever, you know, make such accusations that weren't true. But what did you do to kind of make sure that the entire story was accurate? Because when you put stuff out there like this, it's really, really damaging to the school, really, really damaging to the fraternity. So you wanted to make sure, I'm sure, that everything she was saying was true. So what besides, you know, the common trend you found by talking to other students did you do to verify the story?
ERDELYWell, I can say that, you know, I found Jackie to be -- I put her story through the ringer best as I could. I checked every aspect that I could. I found her to be a very credible person. At the end of the day, you know, look, I was not in that room, you know, on that terrible night so I couldn't tell you -- you know, I can tell you from -- in her words what happened but I don't -- I couldn’t tell you for sure what happened.
ERDELYBut I can tell you that she is a tremendously traumatized person. I can tell you that her -- the story that she told from that night on to all of her friends has been very consistent. And she is incredibly traumatized. Something happened to her in that room.
ERDELYI also say in terms of like the attitude of sort of shock and denial from people at UVA, I get that. You know, I understand that there's been quite a reaction at UVA. Nobody wants to think that something like that can happen on a campus that they love and, you know, in a place where you feel like you're safe. And -- but my hope is that people will be able to sort of read this calmly and use it as a starting point for a really important discussion.
ERDELYAnd it's my hope also, you know, you had mentioned in particular fraternity culture. I mean, I actually think that this is a huge opportunity for fraternities to take the lead in turning the tide on rape. And so I hope that they'll embrace that.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Dante. Here is Joanne in Washington, D.C. Joanne, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Joanne, are you there? Joanne seems to have left the building or at least the telephone. Joanne was calling, she said, to talk about an experience she had earlier of breaking up a gang rape herself. But let's go instead to Jane in Oakton, Va. Jane, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JANEHi. I read the article, as many did, and was like really amazed. One thing that no one ever talks about though, which was sprinkled throughout the article, were the verses of the-- I don't know, was it a fight song or a fraternity song? And I wonder if the reporter could speak to sort of that part of the culture and the whole sports -- how sports figures into it and the fraternity, the whole brotherhood and that stuff.
ERDELYSure. You know, sorry about that. I'm really glad that you brought that up because I do think that the -- you know, I discovered a lot about the degradation of women that's in college culture in ways that are big and small. You know, you've got this male-dominated social scene. You've got these misogynistic fight songs. And of course the rape itself was through the fear of rape.
ERDELYBut, you know, this kind of misogyny is not unique to UVA. We've seen the examples of this at colleges all across the country. The way that it's okay to sort of, you know, I don't know, they treat it like poking fun at women but in a really kind of violent way. And it becomes enshrined in this chants and songs. And it's actually really made me wonder about the long term impact on women's mindsets and on men's too. You know, you're going off into an institution of higher education and then they internalize that.
ERDELYYou know, I read -- this wasn't in the article but I read a study in my researching the article that took place at Boston College recently, that found that after four years of college, women had lower self esteem than when they started, whereas men had higher self esteem. And after exploring the college social culture, I can certainly see why. And it really does make me wonder the kind of impact that that might have in the longer term when these -- when women go out into the workforce.
ERDELYYou know, after the women have been brought low by their college experience by all these sort of degradation large and small, while the men have not only been built up but their college experience has actually encouraged them not to see women as their equals. You know, how does that play out in the workplace, in their marriages and the rest of their lives? I mean, these are just sort of the bigger disturbing questions.
NNAMDIJane, thank you very much for your call. Finally Sabrina, sexual assault is something colleges seem very reluctant to talk about. You mentioned earlier you had a hard time getting access to officials at UVA. And according to officials there, the quote that was challenged earlier, no school wants to be branded as the rape school, what will it take to get more transparency and accountability from campus leaders? Is that what you're hoping will come out of this entire issue?
ERDELYThat is what I'm hoping for, more transparency and ultimately -- I mean, ultimately what we're hoping is that people will be treating sexual assault as a violent crime and so will be taking it seriously and will create a culture in which not only will there be greater prevention, meaning the prevalence of sexual assault be lower, but that sexual assault victims will feel free to come forward and report.
NNAMDISabrina Rubin Erdely is an investigative journalist and contributing editor at Rolling Stone. Her story "A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA" was published in Rolling Stone last week. Thank you so much for joining us.
ERDELYThank you for having me.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, an Armenian American journalist questions why one event a century ago seems to define her existence. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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