Shocking proposal: Maybe it's time "Jackie" from the U-Va rape hoax was exposed

Even though it’s fallen almost entirely off the front page, what with all the other crises dominating the news, the tale of “Jackie” and the fictional gang rape at the University of Virginia is still grinding along. There was another interesting tidbit which came out in recent weeks when journalists investigating the story (along with the police) began to suspect one key figure in the original tale – “Haven Monahan,” who Jackie supposedly knew from her chemistry class – was most likely an entirely fictional character. How does “Haven” fit into the drama? She was probably part of an elaborate “catfishing” scheme cooked up by Jackie herself. (Washington Post)

Just days after he met her, Duffin said, he was goaded into a text message conversation with a U-Va. junior named “Haven Monahan,” whom Jackie said she knew from a chemistry class.

What followed was what lawyers representing U-Va. associate dean Nicole Eramo described in new court documents as an elaborate scheme to win him over — a practice known as “catfishing” — that morphed into a sensational claim of gang rape at a U-Va. fraternity and a Rolling Stone story that rocked the U-Va. campus and shocked the nation.

A Charlottesville Police investigation later determined that no one named Haven Monahan had ever attended U-Va., and extensive efforts to find the person were not successful. Photographs that were texted to Duffin that were purported to be of Monahan were actually pictures depicting one of Jackie’s high school classmates in Northern Virginia. That man, now a student at a university in another state, confirmed to The Post that the photographs were of him.

The catfishing story is interesting, but it doesn’t really change the substance of the original hoax or the culpability of “Jackie” in all of this. It’s just one element in what increasingly seemed to be the fantasies of a disturbed person and the web of lies she wove, only to see them fall apart later. Given the number of lives and organizations affected by this scandal, Paul Farhi asks something this week which would probably have been an unthinkable question at any time in the past. Why are we still calling her “Jackie” and why don’t we know her real name? (Washington Post)

News organizations have declined to reveal Jackie’s full identity since her now-discredited story appeared in Rolling Stone magazine in November 2014. Her single-name identity — just Jackie — is in keeping with a long-standing journalistic convention against identifying alleged victims of sexual crimes to protect the accuser’s privacy.

As a result, news accounts of rape or sex-related crimes almost never name an accuser without their explicit permission, making it the only class of crime involving adults in which this practice is observed.

But that standard arguably doesn’t apply in Jackie’s case. Her story has been shown repeatedly to be false, both through news reporting and an extensive police investigation. Rolling Stone has withdrawn the article, “A Rape on Campus,” and apologized to its readers for publishing an account that a Columbia Journalism School report called “a story of journalistic failure.”

I understand the existing rule about not naming victims of sexual assault in the media, though there are different reasons cited for this depending who you ask. Rape and other sexual assaults are particularly heinous crimes which can traumatize a person on a level even worse than a robbery or a beating, and if the victims do not want to be hounded by the press or forced to relive the experience that’s something I agree we should all respect. It’s a basic matter of decency and privacy.

But here’s the thing… “Jackie” isn’t a rape victim. She’s a rape accuser, and one whose story has completely fallen apart. If anything, she’s more of a criminal in this case (and may turn out to be criminally or at least civilly liable before this is all over) and doesn’t seem to be the sort of figure who merits such shielding. Now, if there were even a vestige of doubt left… if the police had an ongoing investigation and felt there was the slimmest chance that an actual perpetrator might be brought to justice, I’d be all on board with keeping her identity under wraps. But the books are closed on this one. There are no perpetrators to be found. The girl lied and wound up almost taking down an institution in the wreckage she left behind.

The problem we seem to be wrestling with here, however, is how you treat someone who is not the accused, but the accuser. When somebody is accused of a crime we are careful to say “alleged” when discussing them until there is a conviction or a confession. But in this case it’s the reverse. There is no ongoing trial or arrest of the false accuser so she somehow maintains the generic mantle of “potential rape victim” and the protection that brings with it. How does that get resolved? Does she need to be convicted of something in a court of law before such anonymity is no longer appropriate? If so, we’re on the horns of a dilemma because there may well never be any such trial.

There are people who know her real name. (And yes, I’m nearly positive I know what it is.) But who makes the call as to when we can say it?