The danger of suspending journalistic scrutiny
The co-founder of End Rape on Campus may have heavily embellished or wholly invented her alleged rape, which helped spark the influential anti-rape campus crusade of the past few years, according to two new investigations of Andrea Pino’s claims.
Cathy Young writes in Heat Street that the new book by KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor, The Campus Rape Frenzy, led her to look back at her own attempts to verify the former University of North Carolina student’s claims, which resemble those made by fabulist Jackie Coakley in Rolling Stone.
Pino is about as high-profile in anti-rape advocacy as you get. She stars in the one-sided and credulous documentary The Hunting Ground, she wrote a book against scrutiny of far-fetched allegations (We Believe You), and she is “still a frequent speaker on college campuses,” Young notes.
The book by Johnson and Taylor finds “implausible elements” in Pino’s story, in which she said she couldn’t identify her attacker at an off-campus UNC party.
Pino said she was “left severely injured and bleeding” but no one noticed anything at the party or her dorm, and she identified two different people two years apart, with either full or zero knowledge of her incident, as the one person who told her she was “lazy” for academic problems after the rape.
She added a new claim after The Hunting Ground screened, that she was carrying a Taser when she was raped.
Young grew skeptical after reading a Vogue interview with Pino and the accuser’s own Huffington Post essays:
I did some background research for an article raising questions about Pino’s credibility, then put it on hold. Investigating this story proved to be a nearly impossible task, partly because Pino’s account lacks virtually all verifiable detail.
Pino hasn’t responded to emails a year apart and UNC refuses to talk about her allegations because of “confidentiality,” according to Young:
There are indeed some striking similarities here to the Rolling Stone story: Prince Charming who abruptly morphs into a monster; an extremely violent rape during a party; a victim who flees the house dazed, injured and bloodied without anyone noticing her condition, and who never goes to the police or the hospital; insensitive friends who either trivialize the assault or blame the victim; callous university staffers.
There are logistical problems in Pino’s claims: No one at a crowded alcohol-fueled party tried to get into the bathroom where Pino was bleeding; she somehow cleaned up a bloody mess in her room and washed bloody sheets before dorm neighbors noticed; she didn’t seek medical help despite heavy blood loss; and she alternately said the attacker was a “total stranger” and a fellow UNC student.
Pino also can’t keep a straight story on why she didn’t report the rape – was it because she couldn’t identify the attacker or because she took months to recognize it as rape, saying it didn’t fit Law & Order: SVU?
This not only contradicts her earlier claims but seems far-fetched, given that her story actually sounds almost exactly like the classic stereotype of “real rape”: a surprise attack by a stranger using extreme physical violence.
Pino was even “active in a bystander intervention program” at the time of her alleged rape, making it dubious that “other students were so callously unsympathetic,” as she portrayed them.
Young also notes that Pino made an earlier, almost ignored claim that the bloody incident was her second rape at UNC:
This is not mentioned in The Hunting Ground—or, it appears, anywhere else except for an obscure October 2014 blogpost covering a talk she gave at a conference, which mentions that “Pino was sexually assaulted twice” while at UNC.
The first alleged assault is even less credulous from a logistical perspective than the first.
It either involves off-campus Good Samaritans that don’t take Pino to the hospital but instead back to her dorm room – without the unmarked “electronic key fob” to get in her correct building – or a rapist fraternity brother who is dumb enough to be “dragging an unconscious woman around a university campus” without getting caught.
Media reports also cast doubt on Pino’s claims that she was individually harassed after filing a Title IX complaint, noting campuswide vandalism and graffiti incidents. Even the “fake bloody knife” she claims to have found at her door was actually in the “communal kitchen,” and it was spraypainted.
Pino’s claims emphasize what her advocacy explicitly rejects, according to Young, that such incidents should be reported to law enforcement:
But the other lesson is that even after the Rolling Stone fiasco, journalists are still failing at basic fact-checking when it comes to claims of sexual assault—even when the stories have numerous red flags. It seems that no one has tried to track down the advisor or professor who supposedly berated Pino for being “lazy,” or the friend who Pino says was with her at the party where she was raped, or her fellow peer educators in the HAVEN program.
Given Pino’s high profile as an activist, this is a story in desperate need of some real reporting. Perhaps the questions raised by Johnson and Taylor will finally set it in motion.
Read the story, which goes into much greater detail about the problems with Pino’s claims over the years.
IMAGE: Kirsten E. Gillibrand/YouTube