Rolling Stone’s hoax story about a brutal gang rape at the University of Virginia is not the only example of poor journalism when it comes to reporting on campus sexual assault.
Sheila Coronel, Columbia University’s dean of academic affairs, spoke with the Columbia Spectator following a televised press conference on the scathing review of the Rolling Stone story, issued Sunday night by Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. Coronel discussed how journalists need to get both sides of the story when writing about campus sexual assault. . . .
Coronel was specifically asked about Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia student who claimed she was raped during an otherwise consensual sexual encounter and now carries a mattress around campus because the school didn’t find the man she accused responsible. For months, the Sulkowicz story consisted solely of her account of the incident, which led to the student she accused being labeled a rapist even though he was found “not responsible” by a campus court.
It wasn’t until Cathy Young at the Daily Beast told the accused student’s side of the story that journalists realized that the case was not as cut and dry as Sulkowicz made it seem. Young published Facebook messages between Sulkowicz and the accused that indicated she was not the victim she claimed to be.
“Ideally, if you’re reporting this story, all of these things [details about interactions between Sulkowicz and her alleged assailant] should have come out in the beginning rather than pieces of it in dribs and drabs,” Coronel said. “Some of the same lessons [from the Rolling Stone article] we see there: It’s always better to get the other side of the story.”
“It’s hard to establish guilt or innocence, particularly in a case of rape, especially in colleges, where frequently the assaults take place when both parties are drunk and there are few witnesses,” she added.
One would think these difficulties would make people more cautious about assuming guilt without evidence.