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Fraternities at the University of Virginia. (Tina Fineberg/The New York Times)
Fraternities at the University of Virginia. (Tina Fineberg/The New York Times)

Name game

Why the media have never identified “Jackie” — even though her rape story was debunked

By WITW Staff on January 12, 2016

By now, the sensational rape story spun by “Jackie” and recounted in the pages of Rolling Stone 14 months ago has been thoroughly discredited. The fallout was enormous. A complete postmortem was performed by journalism professors to determine what factors could allow for such an abject “failure” to occur. Rolling Stone retracted the story. The fraternity named by “Jackie” has sued Rolling Stone for $25 million and students at the University of Virginia filed a lawsuit against the magazine. The debacle cost the managing editor his job. But to this day, not a single mainstream media outlet has reported Jackie’s real name — even though they may know it. If you’re wondering how she’s been able to remain anonymous through all of the fallout, the answer is pretty simple: custom. It’s a convention in journalism, and has been for a long time, for news organizations to not identify the victims in alleged sex crimes, unless they obtain expressed permission to do so. The Washington Post notes, however, that the logic that serves as the bedrock for that convention doesn’t apply to Jackie, since there’s no proof she’s a victim. Even the police have refrained from identifying “Jackie,” even though they found no evidence of a crime having been committed. The Washington Post notes that “Jackie’s” enduring anonymity, enabled by the media, is serving a larger purpose — namely, not creating a culture of shame that could discourage true rape victims from coming forward in the future. Others argue that shielding the accuser while identifying the accused — even in cases not like “Jackie’s” — has the potential to saddle a possibly innocent person with a social stigma. For its part, The Washington Post, which debunked many of the details in the original story and knows her true identity, has chosen a decidedly much more practical reason for not naming “Jackie.”

Read the full story at The Washington Post.


The bungled Rolling Stone rape article doesn’t change the fact that sexual assault is the most under-reported crime in the U.S.