Search This Blog

Monday, April 06, 2015

Rolling Stone’s “Journalistic Failure” in Jumping on the “You Must Believe the Victim” Bandwagon

College campuses are struggling with the same issues faced by military culture.  The political crusade to stop rape and sexual assault – while certainly a laudable goal – has exceeded the bounds of reason and common sense.  There are false public narratives about sex and alcohol.  There are manipulated statistics.  There is blurring of lines between regret born from poor judgment and actual lack of consent.  There are efforts to diminish the rights of the accused.  There are mantras to “believe the victim” when our American criminal justice systems are based on the presumption of innocence.  And there are the politicians, like Senator Gillibrand, leading the charge from a very skewed and politically advantageous perspective. 

The drumbeat for reform is drowning out the need for a measured, effective, and Constitutional approach to the issue. 

That drumbeat of “you must believe the victim” recently swallowed up Rolling Stone, in their reporting of an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity.  The story “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA” has been the subject of considerable news coverage.  Now, an independent review of the story conducted by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, at the request of Rolling Stone, has criticized the reporting and editing of the now discredited story, according to:

With the military justice system reeling under attacks by politicians, lawmakers, advocacy groups, the press, and others who seek to limit the ability of military defendants to investigate the allegations against  them and to present their defense at trial, cautionary tales like what happened with this article show why it is so important…

- To slow down, not to rush to conclusions that support, or are born out of, a preferred narrative.

- That there be checks and balances to ensure the State (the government, the prosecution - military or civilian) does not have unfair advantage and free reign to convict and jail American citizens.

- That, particularly in military rape and sexual assault cases and courts-martial, we stop hearing from those on the government side that they claim to know, and have determined, what happened behind closed doors - as if they are human lie detectors and are omniscient.

- That we recognize that false confidence that the prosecutor (or politicians or the press) “knows what happened and knows the truth” can cause individuals in positions of authority - such as prosecutors, legal advisers, etc. - to act in questionable ways because they believe they wear the “white hats” and/or the “ends justify the means.”  That is not, nor can it ever be, the case.  

The loudest of the politicians are either too eager to lead the charge, or they just don’t care, about the cautions addressed above.  They just press forward with the misguided narrative that military defendants (the accused) are presumed to be guilty and the military justice system needs to be changed so that conviction and harsh sentence statistics are increased.  

That narrative included signs hung all over military installations that read: “Believe the Victim.”  If we just blindly believe an allegation without appropriately investigating it, we end up with stories like the Rolling Stone story, and innocent men being convicted at trial. 

As I have argued in previous blog posts:

No one knows when this crusade to “fix” the military justice system will end, but the goal of the crusaders certainly is not justice, nor is it fairness, nor is it supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States.  The goal of the crusaders is prosecution victory.  Period.  That is a very dangerous perspective, as seen in this Rolling Stone article.  

For more information about the military justice system, particularly cases alleging rape and/or sexual assault in violation of UCMJ Article 120, type “rape” or “sexual assault” into the search bar above the blog posts.  Also, see:

We offer free consultations for a case you may be involved in.  Just call us.

Thank you.    

By: Attorney Richard V. Stevens
Civilian criminal defense lawyer and military defense lawyer
Military Defense Law Offices of Richard V. Stevens, P.C.

Blog postscript: Attorney Frank J. Spinner and I (attorney Richard V. Stevens) are former active duty military lawyers (JAG). Our perspectives and advice, therefore, are based upon our experience as military defense lawyers and as civilian criminal defense lawyers practicing exclusively in the area of military law and military justice. This blog addresses issues in military law, military justice, military discipline, military defense, court-martial practice, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and other military and/or legal topics. Nothing posted in this blog should be substituted for legal advice in any particular case. If you seek legal advice for a particular case, please contact The Law Offices of Richard V. Stevens and The Law Office of Frank J. Spinner for a free consultation. These military defense law offices are located in Northern Florida (Pensacola, Ft Walton, Destin, Eglin AFB, Hurlburt Field, Duke Field, Panama City, Tyndall AFB areas) and Colorado Springs, Colorado (FT Carson, Peterson AFB, Air Force Academy, Schriever AFB, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Buckley AFB areas), but our military defense law practices are worldwide – we travel to wherever our clients are stationed or serving and need us.

No comments: