Eggs with cheddar cheese. Pepper and garlic salt. I was eating lightly scrambled eggs when the news of the Rolling Stone "retraction" of a highly publicized gang rape hit all of our Facebooks and Twitters on Friday. On the West Coast it was about 10 a.m. (It was a very late breakfast day.) If only there would have been bacon. Maple bacon. Maybe maple bacon would have been enough to wish the day away.
I was called and emailed by various media sources within a matter of minutes of the news hitting the internet. As a public survivor of rape, media outlets wanted quotes. Some wanted sit down TV interviews about why false rape allegations happen (they don't any more than false reports of other crimes, according to the FBI and other sources). Some wanted to know "why survivors lie" (we don't; rape reporting isn't a leisurely, pleasant pastime). And they wanted these interviews immediately.
This all makes sense from a media perspective. No one wants to publish anything mediocre on Friday afternoon. If a media source published something it had to be immediate and sensational.
But this didn't make sense for me. I needed to breathe.
So, I didn't answer the phone.
Sent to voicemail.
iPhone buzzes with my email sound.
Others brilliantly answered in the immediacy of this University of Virginia–Rolling Stone clusterfuck. I needed time.
I needed to process the fact that yet another major publication had crumbled under pressure and issued a retraction of a survivor's story. I needed to process that power, privilege, money, and reputation seemed to matter more than an individual's life.
After talking with other survivors (yes we talk), I literally took a hike. I put on a pair of mismatching socks, my brown hiking boots, left my makeshift office on Sunset Boulevard, and went to hike Runyon Canyon. I needed to think. I needed to ground myself. I needed to make sure that every step I took was intentional.
My mind, though trying to focus, was reeling. What did this "retraction" mean for rape survivors? What did it mean for journalists?
I parallel parked. I ignored my buzzing phone.
I realized the "retraction" was not only one of my personal fears; it could be read as a setback for an entire movement.
As a rape survivor, one of my biggest concerns is not being taken seriously. We are scared of not being believed both individually and collectively.
People ask me questions all the time, and not knowing all the answers to their satisfaction is really freaking scary. How much graphic detail do I have to constantly repeat to be a "good survivor"?
I climbed higher and breathed harder.
I know what I was wearing.
I still have the outfit.
I know how it feels to have something foreign intimately invade my body against my will.
I know what it's like to try to scream and have no sound come out of my throat.
I have that muscle memory.
But was it 10:46? 11:03? 11:19?
I don't remember.
Maybe I should have kept better rape notes.
Maybe I should have...if only I...what if...I could have...
These are the questions that survivors often try to answer in their heads at night.
These are the questions prompted also by this Rolling Stone snafu.
Full disclosure: I don't know Jackie. I haven't fact-checked the details of her story.
Was it a Monday? Friday? Saturday?
Does it matter? That isn't the point.
I hiked onward. There was mud from the recent rain caked on my boots.
I was overlooking the city of Los Angeles, knowing what has happened at the various colleges here.
I believe survivors.
My belief isn't emotionally biased; it's statistically sound.
In the coming days, there will be many articles and op-eds in which survivors will share stories and explain why this is a setback. Others will defend the side of the perpetrator. Some will personally attack Jackie, and therefore all survivor stories. Many will link to previous "unfounded" allegations. And that makes me sad.
Rape is the only crime (that's crime, not sexual misconduct, not nonconsensual sex) in which we have to prove the fact that something happened to our bodies, all while balancing being upset enough to be believable, yet not too distraught to be unstable.
As a mother of a college gang rape survivor recently told me, "A survivor should be able to trust a newspaper, not the paper trust a survivor."
I contemplated this from the top of Runyon Canyon.
We, as survivors, are worried about not being believed already, and rightly so. Of course journalists should do their jobs, and fact-check, but believing survivors is crucial.
It's like the smog that prevented me from clearly seeing my city from the canyon on Friday. Just because I don't want it here, doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
There are many more Jackies, and the willful ignorance and consistent denial of our nation's institutions are betrayals that continue to erase our experiences.
And if you're rolling your eyes or squirming as you drink your morning coffee, it's only because the truth is worse than fiction.
And sometimes, that shit is terrifying.
Annie E. Clark is a writer, speaker and co-founder of End Rape On Campus, an organization which freely assists survivors of sexual assault in educational settings. You can follow her at @aelizabethclark.
Contact Annie E. Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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