In a regrettably unsurprising response, the first skeptical questions about the story were dismissed by a number of feminist and progressive commentators with name-calling, jeers about “truthers,” and accusations of sexism. Reason writer Robby Soave, one of the first journalists to publicly voice the possibility that the story might be a hoax, writes that he had to field a great deal of criticism from people who thought that “it was wrong … to write a story questioning a rape accusation at all.” This attitude is also pervasive among activists. At Slate.com, Allison Benedikt and Hanna Rosin write that the victim advocates to whom they spoke at UVA believe that “questioning a victim is a form of betrayal.” Wendy Murphy, an attorney who has filed complaints against universities—including UVA—for their inadequate handling of sexual violence reports, and who was quoted in the Rolling Stone piece, has said elsewhere that she has “never, ever met a false rape claim” and that talk of the presumption of innocence can sound like “presumption you’re a liar” to the victim.
Murphy said this, as it happens, in discussions of the Duke lacrosse team rape case—which was exposed as a hoax several months later. Obviously, this does not mean that the UVA case will be similarly exposed. But it is a reminder that while women, or men, who come forward with accusations of sexual violence deserve to be treated with support and respect, the sensitive nature of these cases is no reason to suspend rational judgment.