Apology needed in UVa rape hoax scandal

The first thing President Teresa Sullivan of the University of Virginia needs to do in the wake of what now appears to be a faux rape scandal is to apologize to the victims – that is, to the members of Phi Kappa Psi, who have been vilified, forced to move off campus into motels, and suffered suspicions even from family members and close friends.  That would be the human and moral response.  That Sullivan will not do so is nearly as certain as the chance of her taking false accusations as a matter that needs university attention.

This is for two reasons.  First, there is no public traction in calling for false accusations to be stopped.  There is no PC-approved party line on the issue, so there is no mileage there.  No one else would second her; there would be no faculty resolutions, no candlelight vigils held outside the chapel.  A vendor would go broke stocking up on T-shirts with slogans like "Don't rush to judgment!" or "Stop accusing!"  No sports team could don them before flashing lights.

(Yet what cause is more noble, or needed, than standing up on behalf of the innocent?  Ask Dreyfus, the Scottsboro boys, Steven Pagones, or the Duke lacrosse players.)

President Sullivan will doubtless be advised to keep silent to maintain plausible deniability – to position herself on a detached peak from which she can proffer high-minded and critical advice about today's alleged rape crisis.  The cultural mavens will applaud her, and she will appear blameless.  She needed to compose and ironclad response, so she made it clear she is against rape and sexual assault.  There will be nothing to criticize her for – she is innocent, except that she  didn't wade down into the murky waters and join the rescue effort when her help was needed. 

But what now of the actual victims of these accusations?  There is a lot of discussion about how the latest false rape claims (Dunham, UVa) may affect the war on rape culture.  But who considers the effect on the falsely accused?  Dostoyevsky put the following words into the mouth of the holy monk Zossima, in his Brothers Karamozov:

You pass by a little child, you pass by, spiteful, with ugly words, with wrathful heart; you may not have noticed the child, but he has seen you, and your image, unseemly and ignoble, may remain in his defenseless heart. You don't know it, but you may have sown an evil seed in him and it may grow, and all because you were not careful before the child, because you did not foster in yourself a careful, actively benevolent love.

The fraternity brothers' outlook on the world has been shattered.  Their faith in the system, in the integrity their university as their alma mater, in the role model of a university president, is now tainted.  Their trust in authority and the media is shaken.

What seeds has that planted?

The balm would be an apology.  They might then hope again that truth can win out in this world as well as the next, that justice has a place in governance.

Without it, cynicism may replace faith and optimism.