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They Let A Rape Survivor Tell Her Story. But Then They Took 2 Steps Backward.

When a mainstream magazine ends up doing more harm than good when it writes about rape victims, it's time to have some real talk.Update 12/9/14: Rolling Stone updated its editor's note, removing the phrase "and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced."


On Nov. 19, 2014, Rolling Stone magazine published a frightening story of a young woman's account of rape at the University of Virginia.

The story, titled "A Rape on Campus," was widely shared and praised on social media, even though many readers also noted how brutal the account was.

The article specifically highlighted the rape as occurring at one of the fraternities.


In light of the article, UVA's university president, Teresa Sullivan, sent an email to the student body, going so far as to say:

"Beginning immediately, I am suspending all fraternal organizations and associated social activities until January 9th, ahead of the beginning of our spring semester."

Many survivors of sexual assault at UVA were also inspired by the Rolling Stone story to come forward with their stories, and their responses were published on the website under the title, "Rape at UVA: Readers Say Jackie Wasn't Alone."

The young woman was named as "Jackie."

While the story focused largely on Jackie's account, it also examined the obstacles to reporting rape at UVA as well as the culture of sexism at the university. The reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, referred to some of the University's fight songs in the piece:

"A hundred Delta Gammas, a thousand AZDs
Ten thousand Pi Phi bitches who get down on their knees
But the ones that we hold true, the ones that we hold dear
Are the ones who stay up late at night, and take it in the rear."


But rather than discussing the epidemic of college campus sexual assaults, many media pundits began to call Jackie's individual account into question.

Robby Soave, from Reason.com:

"If the frat brothers were absolute sociopaths to do this to Jackie, her friends were almost cartoonishly evil — casually dismissing her battered and bloodied state and urging her not to go to the hospital. ... I'll be following any and all developments in this case, and am eager to see this particular story either confirmed as true or exposed as a hoax."

Richard Bradley, in his blog Shots In The Dark, very closely examined the very fine details of Jackie's story (heads-up, some very graphic details; emphasis ours):

"So then we have a scene that boggles the mind ... .
A young woman is led into a 'pitch-black' room. She is shoved by a man, who falls on her; they crash through a glass table and she lands in shards of glass. She bites his hand; he punches her; the men laugh. (Really? A man punches a woman and people laugh?) With the smell of marijuana (not usually known as a violence-inducing drug) hovering over the room, he and six more men rape her ... .
* * *
'Grab its motherfucking leg," says the first rapist to one of his 'brothers.' It reminds me of Silence of the Lambs. 'It rubs the lotion on its skin…' But Silence of the Lambs was fiction."


Bradley says that to "believe it beyond a doubt ... requires you to indulge your pre-existing biases," ironically without noting that his pre-existing biases make it difficult for him to believe that Jackie could actually be dehumanized and treated the way she recounted.


On Dec. 5, 2014, the magazine decided to say they had lost trust in Jackie.

According to an editor's note by managing editor Will Dana, Rolling Stone found "discrepancies," without mentioning what those discrepancies are. Here's an excerpt:

"We reached out to both the local branch and the national leadership of the fraternity where Jackie said she was attacked. They responded that they couldn't confirm or deny her story but had concerns about the evidence.
In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie's account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced."

And here are the consequences this will have on other survivors.

False accusations of sexual assault are very rare.

One of the studies on false rape accusations that used to be cited was by Professor Eugene Kanin, which determined that 41% of sexual assault reports made to a police agency were not true. But it turns out that only detectives made the call on whether or not it was "false," and the reports weren't thoroughly reviewed by anyone else.

According to several sources, including the National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women, Stanford, and the FBI, more recent, thorough studies put the statistics at 2% to 8% for unfounded reports of sexual assault — which is just about the same percentage of unfounded reports for other felonies. Special emphasis on *unfounded*, which is different from *false.*

Remember that these statistics only include sexual assaults that were reported to the police. And only 40% of sexual assaults are reported.

Way more likely than not, people who report they were sexually assaulted are telling the truth. To "misplace trust" implies that Jackie's story was not to be trusted, that her story is false, when there's no resolute evidence to back that up.

It is perfectly normal for victims to not perfectly remember every detail of their sexual assault.

Just because there are discrepancies in a person's story doesn't mean "falsehood."

And even if some details in a survivor's story are not correct, that doesn't mean she is lying, or that her story is false. Science explains that for us, as Slate reported last year:

"[S]exual assault victims often can't give a linear account of an attack and instead focus on visceral sensory details like the smell of cologne or the sound of voices in the hallway. 'That's simply because their brain has encoded it in this fragmented way,' says David Lisak, a clinical psychologist and forensic consultant who trains civilian and military law enforcement to understand victim and offender behavior.


via Flickr

This is bigger than Jackie's story — this is about how society treats victims of sexual assault.

We don't know every single detail of Jackie's account. We weren't there. But the number of people who have jumped to call the story "false" simply because there were "discrepancies" shows that:

1. We are still not in a society that treats rape survivors' stories seriously.

2. The editor's note ended up being misconstrued as an admission that a survivor was lying (which Rolling Stone did not confirm had happened).

Rolling Stone initially did a brave, fantastic thing by letting Jackie tell her story.

People are so often concerned with "need to hear both sides" that they forget one side is incredibly manipulative and chose to pick apart the victim's story on purpose so her credibility will be doubted. The publication hadn't even named Jackie's rapist. They simply let Jackie tell her story as it was.

But by saying they had "misplaced trust" in Jackie because of "discrepancies," Rolling Stone made it harder for survivors to step forward.

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Native Siberian shares what daily life entails in the coldest village on Earth

See how the people of Yakutia, Siberia take showers, do laundry, go to school and more in minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit.

A man in the Yakutia region of Siberia takes an ice bath in minus 50 degrees Celsius.

For most of us, waking up to a temperature of minus 50 degrees would spell catastrophe. Normal life would come to a screeching halt, we'd be scrambling to deal with frozen pipes and power outages, school and work would be canceled and weather warnings would tell us not to venture outside due to frostbite risk.

But in the Yakutia region of Siberia, that's just an average winter day where life goes on as usual.

When you live in the coldest inhabited area on Earth, your entire life is arranged around dealing with ridiculously cold temperatures. Villages don't have running water because freezing pipes wouldn't allow for water treatment. Kids go to school unless the temp drops below minus 55 degrees Celsius (which is then considered dangerous). Showering involves spending hours stoking a fire in the bathhouse to create a steamy, warm room.

Native Siberian Kiun B. has created a series of documentary short films detailing what daily life is like in Yakutia's frigid winters. She was born and raised in Yakutsk, Siberia, widely recognized as the coldest city on Earth, where average winter temperatures hover around minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit. As seen in her videos, smaller villages in the Yakutia region regularly dip down into the negative 50s, with the lowest recorded temp in the Yakut village of Oymayakon reaching a mindblowing minus 96 degrees Fahrenheit.

The popularity of Kiun's YouTube channel demonstrates how curious people are about life in such harsh conditions, as her videos have been viewed by tens of millions of people in the past year alone.

Check out this video detailing a day in the life of a family in a Yakutia village.

Can you imagine going out to use an outhouse in minus 40 degrees? Oof.

Another of Kiun's videos goes into more detail about how people shower and do laundry in the region. You might assume they wouldn't line-dry their laundry outdoors, but they do.

Watch:

What do people wear to protect themselves from the negative temperatures? Frostbite is a real risk, so it's important to have the right kinds of clothing and outdoor gear to stay safe and relatively comfortable.

Kiun shared some frigid fashion norms from Yakutsk, which include traditional fur hats and boots as well as lots of layers and down jackets.

However, there are some Yakut folks who see the cold as something to embrace. For instance, this man takes an ice bath out in the elements as a morning ritual. It's something he has worked up to—definitely not something to try on your own during a cold snap—but it still has to be painful.

(Seriously, please don't try this at home.)

The way humans have learned to adapt to drastically different environments, from the sweltering tropics to the Arctic tundra, is incredible, and it's fascinating to get a close-up look at how people make life work in those extremes. Thank you, Kiun B., for giving us a glimpse of what it's like to experience life in the dead of winter in the world's coldest inhabited places.