I bet some of you thought that the entire University of Virginia gang rape story which crushed much of the remaining credibility of Rolling Stone magazine was finally in the rear view mirror. Sadly, no matter how much you might wish that were the case, the trail hasn’t gone entirely cold and a number of lawsuits are making their way through the system as the various parties sort through the damage left in its wake. One of these is the case brought by U-Va. associate dean Nicole Eramo, who is suing the magazine for defamation over their allegedly inaccurate portrayal of her response to Jackie’s complaints. They’ve run into a bit of a snag though, since they would like to depose the one person who ostensibly knows the most about it… Jackie herself. Through her attorney, the non-victim has informed everyone that she would prefer not to participate because reliving the “experience” could be too traumatic. (Washington Post)
Lawyers representing a former University of Virginia student who claimed she was the victim of a gang rape in a discredited Rolling Stone story have asked a judge to cancel her scheduled deposition in a lawsuit against the magazine, arguing that she would be “re-traumatized” if she is compelled to recount her ordeal in proceedings under oath…
In newly filed court documents, attorneys for Jackie wrote that a deposition could cause “significant and undeniable psychological harm” and have “shattering and potentially irreparable consequences” to their client.
“Forcing her to revisit her sexual assault, and then the re-victimization that took place after the Rolling Stone article came out, will inevitably lead to a worsening of her symptoms and current mental health,” Jackie’s attorneys wrote, citing “extensive support in the medical literature” that shows “sexual assault victims will experience trauma if they are forced to revisit the details of their assault.”
Actual victims of sexual assault are given wide latitude in America’s courts for precisely these reasons and that’s an important protection to maintain, even if it frustratingly bogs down the wheels of justice at times. Enduring mental and emotional trauma from horrific events is absolutely proven to be real and can require extensive treatment to recover from and reestablish some semblance of a normal life.
But this leaves us in a rather sticky position with Jackie, doesn’t it? Let’s remember that the whipping boy in this particular case is Rolling Stone (an outlet which remains a quite valid target for criticism) but they weren’t the ones who actually began this mess. It was Jackie herself who made the initial claims and brought the entire “campus rape culture” Jenga tower tumbling down. And after God only knows how much time, money and resources were flushed into the case by law enforcement, nobody has come up with a single item in evidence to suggest that she was even in the room where the alleged attack took place, to say nothing of validating her claims of suffering such an outrageous assault.
With that in mind, how precisely would Jackie be “re-traumatized” by testifying if there was no initial trauma to begin with? I suppose the courts will wind up playing it safe yet again here. We’re so conditioned to accept the word of anyone claiming sexual assault for fear of further damaging actual victims that we’re completely at sea when it comes to trying to deal with people who turn out to be false accusers. And – just to play Devil’s Advocate here for a moment – I guess they have to consider the possibility that Jackie wasn’t making the false claim maliciously, but is instead suffering from some sort of mental breakdown and the incident was a hallucination cooked up in a damaged mind.
But if that’s the case, who should stand before the wheel in terms of the damage done to the falsely accused and collateral “victims” like Nicole Eramo? Rolling Stone was guilty of journalistic malpractice in the extreme, but they weren’t the ones who cooked up the story which created the actual harm. That was Jackie. But as long as she can be treated as someone who was the victim of something it appears she can never be held accountable.