Local Commentary

Editorial: Rape Requires Criminal Prosecution

The last two weeks, in the interest of open dialogue and fairness, the News-Press lent its pages to two scathing attacks on our paper for its opinion editorial on the Rolling Stone magazine’s article about allegations of a gang rape at the University of Virginia.

For almost 24 years, we’ve welcomed serious issue-oriented letters and commentaries critical of our editorial point of view, as in this case. But with valid points taken, nonetheless our problem is that while concern in passing for the rape allegation were touched on, the focus of both pieces was something else, namely the passion expressed in the News-Press opinion editorial, “Should UVA Even Exist?”

Exemplary of what seemed a misplaced focus, the enemy in both pieces was not the criminal act of rape so much as our crying out for reform in an impassioned way. In both cases, protecting the reputation of the University of Virginia seemed the real cause for their own vehemence.

Oddly, when discrepancies in the Rolling Stone account of what happened emerged, this newspaper was then attacked for not having independently substantiated the allegations before writing our opinion editorial. This deflected from the core question of whether or not a student at UVA had been brutally raped.

It is ironic that in numerous subsequent nationally televised interviews with UVA students who talked with the victim after the alleged rape, the focus was on discrepancies in her account that appeared in Rolling Stone, but in no case did the students deny that “something really bad” happened to her. While such interviews intended to discredit the Rolling Stone account, the students actually affirmed the likelihood that the victim, indeed, had been viciously raped. So, isn’t that the point?

Our editorial passion was directed not against the university, per se, but against the criminal act that apparently took place, and collaterally the university for failing to have measures in place to adequately address such cases.

We concur with an opinion piece published Dec. 17 in the C-VILLE newspaper in Charlottesville, home of UVA. Jeffrey C. Fracher, Ph.D., with a 42 year career as a clinical and forensic psychologist, and Bruce R. Williamson, Jr., who has practiced law in Charlottesville since 1979, wrote, “The recent controversy over the Rolling Stone article does nothing to change the fact that the Sexual Misconduct Board (SMB) at the University of Virginia is a system broken beyond repair. It needs to be discarded. The only way to respond to all rape is with criminal prosecution.”

“In the SMB, the punishment for those individuals found to have committed a rape at UVA is expulsion. The punishment for rape in Virginia courts is five years to life in prison and mandatory registration as a sex offender.”

The authors offered a series of correctives and concluded, “Rape is rape. Rape is an extremely serious crime. It is time to call it, and treat it, for what it is.”