3. Privacy laws and the norms of survivor support groups created the illusion of institutional verification. Erdely first heard the story from Emily Renda, a rape survivor and alumna who now works on the issue at UVA. Renda mentioned the alleged attack in congressional testimony. Erdely seems to have assumed in some way that this meant the university had confirmed the attack. This impression was heightened by various privacy laws, which make it virtually impossible for the university to discuss specific cases. Erdely was operating under the assumption that the university knew this had happened and was stonewalling. In fact, Renda had the same information Erdely did: the story she heard from Jackie. The university did not have enough information to take action, but it also could not discuss these details with Erdely. The lack of disconfirmation seems to have been taken as positive proof that it happened, rather than what it was: a legal prohibition on sharing information. [emboldening mine]In other words, because university Title IX rape procedure is sealed, it is also unverifiable — which makes the fabulist's life easier and the reporter's work harder. But the most interesting thing in McArdle's essay is the following bit of speculation as to why "Jackie" might have manufactured the whole tale:
Erdely's reporting suggests at least two reasons Jackie might have made it up: She first told her story to the school when she got in trouble for failing classes, and connecting with anti-rape groups on campus plugged Jackie into a social network that gave her a feeling of purpose and fellowship. Had Erdely tried harder to contact the friends whose behavior she maligned, she would have heard a third reason: Jackie had a crush, not returned, on one of the friends she called for help that night.Yikes. Talk about spiraling out of control.