Before Panicking, Can We Get the Facts, Please?

Animal House

Animal House

by James A. Bacon

Let me make this clear up front. I have zero interest in defending the behavior that goes on at University of Virginia fraternities. I never joined a fraternity when I attended UVa back in the early 1970s. Indeed, it only took two frat parties before I reached the conclusion that getting wasted and puking in the gutter was not my idea of entertainment. I never set foot back in a frat house after that. As time passed, my contempt for the frat house culture only grew stronger. I still have vivid memories of moronic frat boys who intermittently attended a class on West Indian history, did none of the reading and contributed nothing to the discussion. They’d heard that the class was a “gut,” and they successfully persuaded the soft-hearted professor not to flunk them on the grounds that they wouldn’t graduate if he did. My contempt for them was boundless. How dare they occupy slots at UVa when so many others with a genuine desire to learn were denied admittance?

So, when it comes to dissecting events at UVa in the wake of Rolling Stone‘s gang-rape story, I feel akin to a Jewish member of the American Civil Liberties Union defending the right of Nazis to march in public parades. Just as the Jewish ACLU lawyer isn’t defending Nazis, he’s defending free speech, I’m not defending fraternities, I’m defending student associations against the indiscriminate over-reaction of the UVa administration.

Not only has UVa President Teresa Sullivan canceled all fraternity and sorority events until the Spring semester, she has amped up her rhetoric. “U.Va. is too good a place to allow this evil to reside,” she said Monday, outlining steps she is taking to overhaul the way the university deals with sexual assault. So, now we’re pitching this as a battle of good versus evil — no shades of gray allowed. Meanwhile, state legislators are stumbling over themselves to introduce legislation to require university authorities across the state to report alleged sexual assaults to police and prosecutors.

One thing we all can agree upon is that the Rolling Stone allegations of a gang rape of a first-year University woman at Phi Kappa Psi fraternity were absolutely horrifying and, if true, that the alleged rapists deserve to spend a long time in jail. The horror of the crime, compounded by the failure of the victim, her friends or university authorities to report the crime, have fueled the furor. What few here in Virginia have yet done, however, is to ask if the allegations are true.

If there is one thing we should have learned from recent news frenzies, it’s that the initial reports are horrifying… and almost always incomplete. The Duke lacrosse team rape. The Trayvon Martin shooting. The Michael Brown shooting. We have fallen into a depressing pattern. An event occurs. First reports confirm a prevailing narrative (usually revolving around racism or sexism, or both). Passions flare, views harden. Facts leak out contradicting the narrative, either in whole or in part. But people dig into their positions and no one changes their mind. It turns out that the Duke lacrosse team did not rape the stripper, and the circumstances surrounding the shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown were far more complicated than first billed and fraught with uncertainties lending themselves to multiple interpretations.

Could that be the case with the UVa gang rape? Hopefully, now that the case has been turned over to the Charlottesville police for investigation, we’ll get a more authoritative account of what happened at the Phi Kappa Psi frat house than what we’ve read in Rolling Stone. That account may turn out in the end to be 100% accurate. But it’s far from authoritative, and university authorities should not assume that it reflects the full unvarnished truth without at least checking it out first.

Why do I say the Rolling Stone article is less than authoritative? Because the narrative of the rape itself relies upon the account of one person, the victim.  The reporter was unable to confirm her version of the story with the three friends whom she told about the rape later that evening. Needless to say, the reporter didn’t talk to any of the alleged rapists or even the instigator, a student identified as “Drew.” And, of course, UVa authorities refused to discuss the case on the grounds of protecting privacy.

Meanwhile, there are details within the story that call out for explanation or clarification. The room where the rape allegedly occurred was described as “pitch black.” The victim, identified as Jackie, “detected movement” in the room and “felt someone bump into her.” Yet toward the end of her three-hour ordeal,  she was able to “recognize” one of her assailants as a classmate in an anthropology class. Maybe there’s a logical explanation for the seeming contradiction — maybe her eyes adjusted to the darkness. Or maybe it’s a flawed narrative. We don’t know. It would help to find out.

Similarly Jackie described falling backward onto a low glass table and shattering the glass as the first rapist assaulted her. “Sharp shards” dug into her back. Multiple rapes ensued. Her body was bleeding, her dress “splattered with blood.” After she fled the fraternity house, one of the three friends thought the injuries looked severe enough to take her to the hospital. Yet she never went — her friends talked her out of it.  These, at least, are details of the narrative can be factually checked. Police can interview the friends for corroborating testimony. They can interview her roommate to see if she noticed the injuries or the bloody dress. They can check Jackie’s body for scars from untreated cuts.

The bottom line here is to gather some facts before jumping to conclusions. If the facts support the rape allegations, then let’s proceed full steam ahead to indict the rapists and send them to jail for a very long time. If they don’t, let’s everybody calm down, please.

Ascertaining the facts on the gang rape won’t settle the broader issue of the “culture of rape” at UVa. Clearly, something bad is going on. As W. Bradford Wilcox, a UVa sociologist and self-described conservative writes in National Review, seven of the 103 female students in his classes reported in an anonymous survey that they had been “forced into a sexual act against [their] will,” and an additional 33 reported that a “UVA friend” has experienced such a violation. Seven of 103, less than 7%, is  a far cry from the commonly touted figure of 20%, but it’s still way too high.

As I have noted before, however, most of these incidents occur in the context of the drunken college hook-up culture in which students drink themselves silly and engage in high-risk behavior. Sometimes, men cross the line of consent. Such behavior needs to stop. While clearly there is a problem that needs to be fixed, the UVa administration is going overboard by shutting down all fraternity and sorority events until someone figures out what needs to be done. Is it justified to punish the innocent along with the guilty? Or do we just suppose that all Greek organizations are guilty, even the sororities? Writes Wilcox:

On most college campuses, some fraternities have a reputation for misogyny and bad behavior. Plugged-in students and administrators usually know which fraternities treat women badly. These fraternities should be identified and reformed or shut down.

I agree. There well may be fraternity houses where the sins are so egregious that they deserve to be shut down entirely. But we don’t know that right now. All we have are vague charges leveled against fraternities generally and one single horrifying charge leveled against Phi Kappa Psi. Shutting down all Greek social events strikes me as one of blind, unthinking panic. The UVa administration and board are reacting on the basis of emotion, not facts. And that can lead to no good.

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27 responses to “Before Panicking, Can We Get the Facts, Please?

  1. WaPo, Slate, New Republic, and Reason are all now questioning the validity of the story in separate pieces today.

    By the way…..an honest local journalist has done some investigative digging and found that no member of the fraternity in question worked at the AFC in the fall of 2012…….

  2. I am puzzled by these events. When I served as Secretary of Education for Virginia UVA had, by far, the best university administration in the Commonwealth. Frank Hereford, Leonard Sandridge and Ray Hunt consisted of the best university administrative team in Virginia higher education since Marshall Hahn left VT in 1975. And I would have to say they were one of the best in America.
    But how did U VA get from there to here and now is a question that must be answered. And it cannot be assigned to Dr. Sullivan even though the most important point in her term is most certainly here and now.
    Being familiar with Harvard I cannot imagine this crisis occurring there. And Harvard is considered by many at UVA as the model competitor.

    • I agree with you on Hereford, Hunt, etc. I went to college at UVA during their regime. Ray Hunt even taught an accounting class I took.

      My quibble with your narrative is blaming Sullivan. She hasn’t been there long enough to blame for overall trends.

      Casteen was the problem, pure and simple.

    • Harvard was remiss in its process with regard to sexual assault, and then swung too hard the other way–not a model for others http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/03/harvard-sexual-assault-complaint_n_5080708.html And no president can be blamed for greenlighting sexual assault; the question is why efforts at stemming it have been ineffective for so long. Sullivan gathered nice headlines in Feb with a national conference she hosted on sexual assault, so her head is not completely the sand, but she is not cracking the real nut. In her speech Mon to students, she talked about “healing” (from what–we don’t have a diagnosis) and none of the 5 measures she reeled off would have prevented the incident as reported by Rolling Stone. Nationally, we need to get to some of the causal issues: how do some boys arrive at a campus poised to assault girls? How can we identify them before they devolve, how can we help them? Do we start in middle school?

      • Perhaps President Sullivan should be given some room on this one. It is far more than the Rolling Stone story: 27 reports of sexual assault this past year? Jesse Mathew is hired to work in patient relations by the university after he had left two other Virginia institutions with possible sexual assaults in question. Did anyone check him out? And the Lacrosse players tragedy seems to be drinking out of control. Are there others to come out is an important question?
        There are an array of issues and incidents that all have to be addressed now and taking the straightest line will be better for the university in the longer term. I would think. Rolling Store pointed a light in a dark room that will now receive a lot of light and how the university handles it will be far more important than the ifs and buts of this article or that one.

  3. Sometimes what is needed is a cooling-off period that is justified by no cause-and-effect logic other than the need for cooling off, and the need to show who is in charge, and the need for those in charge to do something. As several have observed, the current “ban” on UVA fraternity/sorority activities expires after the holidays so the actual impact isn’t that great, except for a couple of big football weekends.

    Talk of a “zero tolerance” policy without elaboration, however, merely muddles the issues; the “temporary ban” on any activity at best only buys time. What is utterly lacking is any statement, any action, that’s thoughtful, perceptive, or truly forward looking, from the UVA administration, other than “we are looking into it.”

    Where is the leadership? Even if it is only to articulate a timeline for moving forward, an outline of procedural steps and dates, even subject to the delays of external developments and constraints as they must be at this stage, it would help the taxpayers of Virginia (and the alumni of one of its finest institutions) to have someone to coalesce around, with ideas to focus on, here. President Sullivan has not met that challenge, in my opinion. Neither has the BOV.

    Remember the criticism of the University’s Board back at the time of the flap over retaining Sullivan? It was all about fuzzy declarations, arising from apparently fuzzy thinking, about what the BOV expected from the President and what was wrong if anything with her long range plan. We never have heard any followup, either. Well, zero tolerance for sexual assault is a fuzzy declaration too. Where is the elaboration of what this means? Where are the actions, even the discussion of potential actions, to effectuate it?

  4. I’ve become skeptical also for the reasons being pointed out. hold on to your butts… we might be about to blast off!

    and if this thing turns out to be bogus – it’s going to do great harm to the legitimate issue of how rape ought to handled on college campuses.

    first person stories than cannot be corroborated are problematical.

  5. I was in a fraternity at UVA and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Some of my brothers from the late 1970s and early 1980s remain my best friends today. My grades were just fine and several of the fraternity brothers who graduated with me went on to careers in the military (one Navy Seal for example), medicine (at least 3 doctors), Wall St and technology.

    The difference between Jim Bacon and me is that while I never cared to be a dateless, friendless, Nehi guzzling, library dwelling loner I only make fun of such people if they attack my lifestyle without cause.

    My guess is that there is about a 5% chance that the article is essentially true as written. There are many inconsistencies. Unfortunately, I’d guess there is about a 75% chance that something bad did happen to “Jackie” at that fraternity.

    As for Dean Sullivan shutting down the Greek system until next semester – I would have done the same thing. The last thing UVA needs is another incident coming out of the fraternities until a plan has been hatched. If Sullivan didn’t shut them down they should have shut themselves down for a while.

    Of course, George Huguely wasn’t a member of any fraternity when he killed Yeardley Love in a fit of blind rage after having had shown numerous other very troublesome warning signs. Did they shut down the lacrosse team? And Jesse Matthew stands accused of raping three women and killing two of them (after being thrown out of two different colleges after charges of sexual assault). He was an employee of the University of Virginia Medical Center. I wonder if they will shut down the medical center for a while because one of its employees is accused of multiple rapes and multiple murders.

    These problems are hardly the exclusive province of the fraternity system.

    If I were back at the fraternity at UVA I’d have to consider ending open house parties. No more letting anybody with a UVA ID in. Your name would need to be on “the list” before you got in. I’d also keep a few pledges sober with instructions to escort any obviously intoxicated guests out of the house.

  6. Posted for Reed Fawell:

    As parts of Jim article suggests UVA’s current task is to:

    1/ help the legal authorities determine the facts relevant to the alleged attack of “Jackie”in a UVA fraternity,

    2/ determine the facts relevant to the broader issues of an alleged long term “culture of rape” at the UVA,

    3/ determine the underlying causes that drives that culture (if it exists)

    4/ devise & deploy solutions the fix those problems, however systemic.

    I believe recent actions by UVA officials suggest that they’re aimed to obfuscate diligent fact finding into what’s going at UVA . And to instead hit easier targets that can be readily convicted by emotion and hysteria rather than facts. Thus some there now seem to cheer on hysteria in order to push through easy and false but popular solutions that shift blame onto easy targets and away from more difficult and embarrassing ones.

    • You assume something is “going on” at U.Va. If you read the pieces that are coming out, this story is starting to fall apart about “Jackie.”

      There was an investigative journalist on the Downtown Mall today from a national publication who is working on a piece to discredit the Rolling Stone piece according to a waiter who works at Hamilton’s.

      Did “Jackie” even report this incident to the university until a year after it happened?
      Did “Jackie” even tell university officials about a “gang rape” or was it just a one-on-one complaint?
      Why isn’t there any record of someone at the fraternity working at the AFC in 2012?
      Why is the mysterious “Drew” so hard to find? There’s someone who some students have “suspected” is “Drew”, but when questioned by other reporters, the guy denies everything and has a “convincing” story.
      Are the “friends” who allegedly “corroborated” what was in the story the same “friends” portrayed in the story or are they other “friends” of Jackie who have no first hand knowledge of “Jackie’s” “friends” actions on the night in question? If they aren’t the “friends” in the story, how is that “corroboration”?
      Why is it so hard to find any evidence in Student Health, U.Va. Hospital, or Martha Jefferson Hospital of “Jackie” seeing someone on the night in question? Brutally raped by 7 guys and rolling around in shards of glass for 3 hours? You don’t just “recover on your own” if that actually happened. You’re going to need immediate medical attention.

      When this story first broke, I warned you all that this sure “smelled like a rat” to use Patrick Henry’s phrase. Yet we’ve had the usual denunciations, calls for action, etc. If the whole story proves to be a fable, then what?

      • All excellent and valid points of which niggled at me also early on as something that would be further supported as the story evolved since so much credence was accorded the Rolling Stone article – from the beginning .. and…

        .. this part is important also..

        since UVA did not come out and say it was a bald-faced lie from the get go.. instead they immediately went into bunker mode – acting defensive and guilty…

        … in no small part, I think, BECAUSE the existing modus operandi of the University in sexual behavior cases – IS to PROTECT the University’s reputation over the rights of the victim – and their accuser – when push comes to shove –

        and they’ve done this by putting into their own honor code – things that extend beyond their academic purview – to include the law and Code of Virginia ; they essentially appointed themselves to the role of investigation and prosecution LITE .

        the most that UVA or other colleges should do is this: 1. refer reported incidents to the police – forthwith and 2. in their handbook – detail the criminal offenses for which the University will not allow continued matriculation. In other words, if you break the law, get convicted out you go – if you get indicted or under investigation – you are suspended pending resolution of it.

        any involvement by the University prior to actual action by the authorities is not only inappropriate by them – BUT.. it OPENS THEM UP to allegations of cover-up and hiding important information – from the authorities.

        In other words – their policies try to supplant the law and in the process – harm can be done to the University, the presumed victim and the alleged perpetrator.

        UVA – and all should get out of this business all together in my view.

        The person who believes they have been harmed needs to bear the responsibility of falsely accusing someone – as they would in any situation regardless of the venue and circumstances.

        The Universities should codify a “terms of service” just as you see on many websites – that essentially says – if you break the law or you are accused of breaking the law – you may have to leave the University temporarily until it is resolved or permanently if convicted – and let that be the standard for those who suffer from raging hormones or whatever else might ail you.

      • Actually C’ville Resident I tend to agree with you.

        I’ve had my doubts about the critical elements of this Jackie story from the start, and suspected a hidden agenda to be its motivating factor.

        But the genie is out of the bottle and we must get to the bottom of what the truth is, if only to restore UVA reputation, but also to give due justice to Jackie whatever the truth make lead.

        Secondly, we need to understand while UVA remains so fragile, and so prone to hysteria behavior. I have my ideas, and want to see where the facts lead. But, no doubt, something is rotten in Denmark.

        • No doubt that the truth should come out.

          But in my mind there’s an enormous chasm between:

          A.) U.Va. has a very “soft” rape counseling staff that usually results in incidents such as “regret sex” not being reported to the police by the victime; and

          B.) U.Va. covers up violent, heinous gang rapes.

          Title IX allows universities to report sexual assaults to the authorities even without the victim’s consent if the crime is serious. I don’t for a second believe that any university would not report such an incident to the police. That’s why I’ve always “smelled a rat.” There are a lot of bad things at U.Va., but I don’t believe that the school would allow this to happen without reporting it to law enforcement.

          I’m interested that a conservative, like Mr. Bacon, hasn’t really gotten to the heart of this story. The heart of this story is that there is a movement in universities across this country to “lower standards of proof” and even eliminate adversarial proceedings about sexual assault b/c the sexual assault “industry” is upset that so many criminal juries are “disbelieving” of allegations and acquit a lot of men of rape when it’s simply one word against another. They also don’t believe it’s “fair” that “victims” have to be questioned in a “hostile manner” about their “allegations.” The narrative is that “as long as it’s proof beyond a reasonable doubt, no man will ever be convicted in a he said/she said trial without physical evidence.”

          That’s what’s driving this train.

          I am just like everyone else: Put rapists in prison. Hell, castrate them if you want.

          But I think this RS piece is agenda-driven.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            I believe there is truth to your points. A lot of politics and cultural warfare is going on below the surface here.

            A “Cultural Assault” on the fraternity system and what it represents to many in academia and the cultural left is one of those several forces at play here. Hence some at UVA are following the iron rule of ideology – Don’t let a Crisis go to Waste.

            This does not mean that there may well be a sexual abuse issues in the Jackie Event and in the culture at UVA generally. If this is so, I suspect that many cultural and political forces likely are driving this reality. And that what is happening at fraternities only manifest these larger issues. Thus too similar problems might well be rising at dorms for example.

      • Why does the Rolling Stone article consider the following relevant to the alleged brutal gang rape of Jackie at UVA:

        1/ “UVA aura of preppy success where throngs of toned, tanned and overwhelmingly blond students fanned across a landscape of neoclassical brick buildings, hurrying to classes, clubs, sports …
        2/ “An “Upper Tier” frat (with) reputation of tremendous wealth …”
        3/ “Greek life is huge at UVA”
        4/ “On this deeply loyal campus (going public on rape is seen by Jackie’s closest friends) as tantamount to betrayal.
        5/ “… genteel UVA has no radical feminist culture seeking to upend the patriarchy … no “sex positive” clubs promoting female orgasm like at Yale … and certainly no SlutWalks.”
        6/ “There is a national conversation about sexual assault but nothing at UVA is changing.”
        7/ “Prestige is at the core of UVA’s identity … its grounds of red brick, white columned Building designed by Thomas Jefferson radiate old money privilege …”
        8/ “Wealthy parents are the norm…”
        9/ “Partying traditions fuse the decorum of the southern aristocracy with binge drinking … the dress code is “girls in pearls, guys is ties … while students guzzle handles of vodka.
        10/ UVA students “burble about UVA honor Code, a solemn pledge not to lie, cheat or steal.”
        11/ “In these situations (rape), the (students) who get the most protection is either the wealthy kid, the legacy or an athlete. The more privilged he is, the more like the woman has to die before he is held accountable.”

        These stuff is taken only from the beginning of the article. What does it tell us about the agenda behind the article? Where might those who wrote and edited this article be “coming from?”

        • And why has President Sullivan so quickly and publicly embraced this article, its accusations, insinuations, conclusions, and so forcefully promised such quick action to fix the “problems” the article raises?

  7. Note: the incident that triggered the Title IX review by OCR allegedly took place at the Jefferson Society, a debate club.

  8. How could it happen that UVA’s administrators collected voluminous files on “rape charges” in a “Rape Culture” among its students for more than a decade and took no effective action to report it to police. And why did they fail to take strong public steps to stop a orgy of sex crimes on Mr. Jefferson’s Grounds?

    Why does this neglect so radically change when Rolling Stones Magazine allows “Jackie to tell her own story” of her night on Fraternity Row at UVA?

    The answers to these failures , and their causes, are far more deeply rooted in our culture than might first appear. But if one thinks this through than one might find UVA otherwise inexplicable failures far more understandable. And solutions to be far different from what UVA in now considering at its peril.

    The three inquires into some of these deep causes that I have read to date are three articles found at :

    1/ (http://thefederalist.com/2014/11/19/we-can-either-have-sex-like-animals-or-like-humans/),

    2/ “Stop Pretending Sex Never Hurts,” referenced in above article, and

    3/ and a just published piece by Heather MacDonald found at http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/neo-victorianism-campus_810871.html

  9. Another article by Heather Mac Donald, The campus Rape Myth, throws light on the current controversy surrounding the Rolling Stones Jackie article. In particular it helps to explain:

    1/ the reasons behind the apparent advocacy nature of the Rolling Stones article, as opposed to balanced investigative journalism,

    2/ The political, cultural, and ideological bent of the Rape Culture movement, and fierce battle and disagreement over its accepted orthodoxy.

    3/ UVA’s long involvement in the Rape culture movement pro and con. This suggests that UVA’s administration has long been knowledgeable on what’s happening on its Grounds, and nationally, as it relates to subject. And why UVA became of target of the article rather than other universities.

    The article is found at:
    city-journal.org/2008/18_1_campus_rape.html

  10. The Rolling Stones article is ingenious. It “reports” the physical details of the crime with the vividness and specificity of an exquisitely imagined novel. Yet its 9000 words offers no hard evidence that the crime, or any of its details, did in fact occurred.

    It’s zipper-less journalism.

    The article uses the tools of pure fiction writing to allege a horrendous crime then refuses to present any hard evidence that substantiates the criminal event while it shuts out any possibility of a defense to those accused by association yet not named.

    That is the appearance anyway.

    • trouble is – even if the RS article ends up bogus to the bone – the typical way UVA handle these kinds of things opened them up to attack.

      It’s extremely hard to believe not a single case has been referred over the last few years – unless I got that part wrong and they did.

      so RS was able o drag them into the mud pit.

    • The alleged crime may have happened but you would never know it by the Rolling Stone’s article that in fact does a disservice to and undermines Jackie’s story if true.

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