What Might Have Happened at UVA

Photo: Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress/AP

Photo: Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress/AP

[Ed. Note: This is another guest post from Nicole Bedera. Nicole is a doctoral student at the University of Maryland, College Park who studies college sexual assault. She also worked as a Hospital Response Team advocate at the Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake City.]

A few weeks ago, Rolling Stone published an article detailing a graphic rape at the Phi Psi fraternity at the University of Virginia. For a week, the story was widely shared and more victims of campus sexual assaults came forward to tell their stories. Fraternities closed their doors at universities across the country and school administrators apologized for turning a blind eye. But then it came out that no one had tried to track down the accused perpetrator to get his side of the story. After Phi Kappa Psi gave some evidence that things happened differently than they were conveyed in the article, Rolling Stone retracted their story entirely. As a result, the victim Jackie has been painted as an unreliable witness at best and a fame-mongering liar at worst. But is that the reaction we should be having?

What we’re getting is a unique experience to see is how a sexual assault allegation plays out on a college campus. A victim comes forward after what was likely the most confusing and traumatic night of her life. She tells a story that is heart-wrenching and incredibly hard to believe. At first, the victim is supported and cared for, but to complete an investigation, both sides of the story have to come out. The alleged assailant is contacted and he tells a completely different story. He might say anything from they really had consensual sex to denying knowing her altogether. Now the investigator doubts the victim. The accused tells a more sensible and—honestly—comforting story. But the reality is that rape is never sensible or comforting. When we drop rape investigations after hearing the alibi of the accused, we treat the victim like her story is too graphic for us to want to believe, and the accused like he could never lie, much less rape anyone.

In reality, the truth is somewhere between the victim and the accused’s stories. It is perfectly reasonable to expect that a traumatized victim won’t remember everything perfectly. It is also perfectly reasonable to expect that a rapist will lie to avoid prosecution. The pursuit of the truth during a sexual assault investigation should be thought of as a compromise between two narratives, not a winner-take-all contest for the most reasonable story.

After reading as many articles about UVA as I could get my hands on, I want to piece together a potential compromise for Jackie’s story. I know that there is plenty of information that I don’t know—I don’t work for Rolling Stone or sit on UVA’s Title IX committee—but my point is to demonstrate how to combine new facts with old ones in a sexual assault investigation, not to be the one charged with discovering the real truth.

During her freshman year at UVA, Jackie was invited to a fraternity party by a boy who introduced himself to her as Drew. Since she was invited as his date, she didn’t bring any of her friends. The party that night was unofficial—fraternities can only have a limited number of official events each year, but regularly have unofficial gatherings with alcohol and women. When she got to the fraternity house, Drew immediately met her and started giving her drinks. Jackie was nervous about drinking too much, so she tried to pour them out when he wasn’t looking. As the night went on, he thought that she was drunk. After a while, Drew invited her upstairs. When they arrived, there was a group of other men there, and some of them took turns raping her. Drew never touched her. He belonged to another fraternity who supplied girls for Phi Kappa Psi. This arrangement wasn’t made with the entire fraternity, but instead with a few specific members who kept their actions largely secret from their brothers. By not touching her, he could claim that he had nothing to do with the incident when none of his DNA was found on her body. That tactic kept the rapists anonymous and the supplier free from responsibility.

During the assault, Jackie lost consciousness. She woke up alone and confused later, unsure of where she was and of how many people violated her. She called her friends and asked them to get her, but in her state of trauma, she can’t remember exactly how long that took. She walked as far away from the fraternity as she could while she waited. When they found her, she was visibly shaken and upset. When she told them what happened, some of them talked about wanting to protect their status on campus, so, feeling hurt and judged, she kept the details to herself. Much of what she had already said was misunderstood by first year students who couldn’t understand how something like that could happen to their friend. After some of her friends discouraged her from reporting, Jackie asked to be taken back to her dorm. As Jackie tried to deal with what happened to her, she went through waves of self-blame and fear that made her imagine thousands of possible things that happened to her in the confusion of that night. Some of them felt more real than what she really went through. Years later, her story is mostly true, but some details are missing or confused after all of the remembering and trying to understand how so many people could do something so horrible to her.

In trying to get closer to the truth, Rolling Stone made two terrible mistakes. First, they tried to act as investigators without any experience to do so. Second, they gave up on that task—and on Jackie—when their investigation got hard. Victims deserve better from the journalists who offer to tell their stories. They also deserve better from the people reading them

Weekly Feminist Happenings December 16th-22nd


Tuesday, December 16th

Write for Rights: December 10th is International Human Rights Day, and here at Amnesty International, we are continuing our annual Write for Rights event. By writing letters to governments around the world to ask for the release of unjust or unfair imprisonments and writing letters to prisoners and their families in solidarity, we have helped the release of over 44,000 prisoners of conscience since our founding in 1961. Your letters, combined with hundreds of thousands of letters from around the world, will make a difference in the fight against injustice. Your letter can change a life. Sign up to Write for Rights on your own or with friends, eat delicious treats with us, and join the largest grassroots human rights movement in the world. The event will take place in Room E, hope to see you all there! Details: From 6:30-8:30 a.m. at the Salt Lake City Public Library – Main (210 E. 400 South, Salt Lake City).

Thursday, December 18th

Candlelight Vigil For Homeless Person’s Memorial Day: Fourth Street Clinic’s Consumer Advisory Board and the Salt Lake County Homeless Coordinating Council will host a Candlelight Vigil for Homeless Person’s Memorial Day, Dec. 18, 2014. The event remembers the homeless Utahns who paid the ultimate price for a life without a home in 2014. Details: From 5:30-6 p.m. at the Fourth Street Clinic (409 W. 400 South, Salt Lake City).

Tell us about your event here!

Weekly Feminist Happenings December 9th-15th


Tuesday, December 9th

Poinsettia Fundraiser: People With AIDS Coalition of Utah will offer a poinsettia sale for the holidays. The poinsettias (plant and pot) average 15-19 inches tall and 15 inches wide, and are set in a 6-inch pot with a satin pot cover. Details: Call 801-484-2205 to order. Visit www.PWACU.org for information.

Warm Bodies & Souls: Bank of Utah plans to warm up Utah families in need this holiday season by sponsoring its annual “Warm Bodies, Warm Souls” coat drive. The public is invited to donate new and gently-used coats, hats, scarves, gloves, blankets and other cold-weather accessories at Bank of Utah’s 18 branches and mortgage loan offices. Details: For more information and location addresses visit www.BankofUtah.com or Bank of Utah on Facebook.

Wednesday, December 10th

Trees of Diversity: The Trees of Diversity exhibit showcases not only traditionally decorated trees, but also trees representing Utah’s ethnic and cultural diversity. Gingerbread houses, wreaths, nativities from around the world and other holiday scenes will also be on display. Bring the family on November 20 for the official opening reception, 6-8 p.m., and have photos taken with Santa Claus. Listen to the holiday sounds of the Beehive Statesmen Choir while sampling tasty treats. Enjoy more than 25 trees and wreaths decorated by different ethnic arts groups from throughout the valley. Details: Through January 2nd from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Utah cultural Celebration Center (1335 West 3100 South). Visit here for information.

Thursday, December 11th

15th annual Latin American Dance Spectacular: Colorful costumes, authentic music, and especially our native dancers combine to take the audience on a cultural tour of Latin America. Special Guest Dancers & UHDA Alumni – Ballet Amalgama from Asuncion, Paraguay, will participate in this special 15th anniversary event. Details: From 7-9p.m. at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center (138 West 300 South). Tickets are available by calling Arttix at 801-355-ARTS or online at www.arttix.org

Screening of Fire in the Blood: The documentary “Fire in the Blood,” which looks at how Western pharmaceutical companies and governments blocked access to low-cost AIDS drugs in Africa and other undeveloped countries. Details: Starts at 7 p.m. at the Viridian EventCenter (1825 West 8030 South in West Jordan).

Saturday, December 13th

Women of the World 4th Annual Celebration: Women of the World will have an award banquet and social mixer for the community to recognize the educational, service, and citizenship successes of refugee women. Food, dance, and an opportunity to meet with courageous women from all over the world that are grateful to call Salt Lake City home. Details:  From 2-6 p.m. at the Salt Lake County Complex (2001 South State Street).  Visit here for information.

Tell us about your event here!

Weekly Feminist Happenings November 25th to December 1st

return to Homs

Tuesday, November 25th

Film Screening of Return to Homs: Filmmaker Talal Derki follows two friends caught up in the civil war in Syria – a soccer star and singer who writes songs about peaceful liberation from the Assad regime, and an activist who uses his camera to document the revolution. Details: Starts at 7 p.m. at the Salt Lake City Public Library – Main (210 E. 400 South, Salt Lake City).

Wednesday, November 26th

Living Well With Chronic Conditions: The VA Medical Center will host an evidenced-based Living Well with Chronic Conditions 6-week workshop to help veterans with any type of chronic health condition to better manage their health. Family members or friends are encouraged to attend. Participants will make weekly action plans and learn tools to deal with symptoms including fatigue, pain, stress and emotional problems, healthy eating, problem-solving, and working more effectively with your health care team. Details: Visit here or call 801-792-0906 for information.

Friday, November 28th

Caregiver Support Group: Join the Neighborhood House Caregiver Support Group. The fourth Thursday of every month, visit Neighborhood House’s Cottonwood Adult Day Center to enjoy some time and discussion with other caregivers in the area. Hosted by Neighborhood House and Gentiva Home Hospice. Details: From 4-5 p.m. at the Cottonwood Presbyterian Church (1580 E. Vine St., Cottonwood Heights).Contact Debbie Colby, Program Coordinator at Cottonwood Neighborhood House 801-277-3264 or cottonadmin@nhutah.org for more information.

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If Babies Are Feminine, So Is Shitting Your Pants


I have eight nieces and nephews on my partner’s side of the family. I love each of them so much. They range in age from four months to fourteen. They each have their own marvelous personalities, and they each do things that drive their parents crazy. All of them are being raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and all of them experience some of the strictest gender policing I have ever witnessed. Last Sunday I was sitting with the newest addition, watching her wriggle and flail while Grandma told me that the little miss just had a “blow out” so severe that it went everywhere.

Less than five minutes later she looked at me and said, “Isn’t she just so feminine?” 

My niece is just hitting the age where she can start eating rice cereal. She just learned to hold her own head up. She can’t even see color completely!

I’m going out on a limb here to say that nothing she does is inherently gendered. She is just trying not to die and form attachments to her parents.

Here’s the thing, gender is socially constructed. It starts with gender reveal parties, baby clothes, and keeps going until the day we die. I challenge you to think of the things baby girls do. I challenge you to challenge your family. Baby girls do the following as far as I’m aware: they vomit on themselves, poop their pants, spit all over, and fart with reckless abandon. Just to name a few. List those things and ask:

Are those things feminine?

I’m not saying they’re masculine or feminine. I think they’re just natural occurrences, but if we’re talking about normative gender ideology, shitting your pants isn’t feminine. So tell me, how is that four-month-old feminine?