It would be good for the nation and national discourse on gender-related matters if there existed a national organization, operated with integrity, intelligence and dignity, that addressed legitimate issues of women’s rights with the zeal of an advocate as well as professionalism and common sense. There was a time, so long ago now that I can’t even recall exactly when it was, that the National Organization for Women appeared capable of evolving into just such an organization. As this incident shows beyond a shadow of a doubt, that chance has passed. NOW has descended into permanent knee-jerk hackery, the realm where its neighbors are such predictable and rightly-maligned one-note fanatics as PETA, the NRA, NARAL, and Media Matters. What a shame. What a lost opportunity to do good.
When the Worst of Ethics 2015 is finally published here (It’s coming! I swear!), the “Rolling Stone” fiasco featuring the fantasy rape accusation of “Jackie” against a University of Virginia fraternity will take one of the “honors,” and maybe more. From that collision of campus sexual assault hysteria and incompetent journalism came real harm, and several of the victims are suing the publication for defamation. One such victim is a University of Virginia associate dean named Nicole Eramo, who is alleging in her lawsuit that the magazine falsely portrayed her as negligently unconcerned with allegations of sexual assault on campus and as the now totally discredited fraternity gang rape tale’s villain.
Counsel for Eramo has asked that a court require “Jackie” to turn over any communications ,related to the alleged assault, between Jackie and the magazine, friends, family and a campus support organization. Now NOW has presumed to interfere, and is trying to derail the lawsuit. In an open letter published this week, NOW president Terry O’Neill called on UVA president Teresa Sullivan to get Eramo to drop the suit. (She cannot force her to do that, however, and it would be unethical for Sullivan to try.)
The theory behind the letter is outrageous. O’Neill denies that Jackie fabricated her story, though the only available evidence indicates she did, and NOW has no basis on which to conclude or assume otherwise other than “Men Bad, Women Good.” O’Neill says, “I have always believed Jackie,” which means and only can mean, “I am a biased partisan who makes up her mind not based upon facts or fairness, but ideology.” She argues that Jackie’s trauma could have affected her memory of the alleged assault—possible, but if Jackie cannot come up with any verifiable evidence that the assault took place, she is, and ought to be, unable to make credible accusations. The letter terms the lawsuit an agency of Jackie’s “re-victimization.” As of this moment, she is the victimizer. She provoked injustice; she caused the harm, with the significant assistance of Rolling Stone and its unethical reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely.
“It is exactly this kind of victim blaming and shaming that fosters rape culture, re-victimizes those brave enough to have come forward, and silences countless other victims,” the letter says, and later adds that the lawsuit’s allegations “recite nearly every false argument made to undermine victims of sexual assault.” NOW has taken up permanent residence in Bizzaro World. “Her story is false and its details are fabricated” may well be defenses used to foil real victims of sexual abuse, but that does not make them invalid, unreasonable or objectionable when an accuser’s story is false and its details are fabricated —like, say, in Jackie’s case.
NOW is apparently pushing Hillary Clinton”s sexist position that all victims of sexual assault must be believed to its ultimate absurdity. It is arguing that a claimed victim unable to produce any evidence to support such a claim must still be treated as unassailable, and is also unaccountable for the harm her irresponsible or even malicious accusation causes her own victims.
“We do not see how students who experience sexual assault at UVA will be able to trust University officials tasked with protecting them if this conduct is allowed to continue,” the letter says. Nonsense. But it is very true that if NOW’s approach prevails, no student accused of sexual assault will be able to trust that the university will approach the allegations with fairness and due process, as well as a presumption of innocence. Moreover, as Libby Locke, one of Eramo’s attorneys correctly points out, it is”unfortunate that an organization that is supposed to advocate on behalf of women is supporting a woman who has set the cause for survivor support back so far.”
As for NOW, the organization has squandered any power or influence it might have as an advocate by showing itself willing to back a liar based on nothing but dogma. Does that even occur to its leadership? Apparently not, which is yet another reason not to trust the National Organization for Women.
This is how sharks get jumped.