As criticism of shortcomings in its reporting of an alleged 2012 gang rape at UVA reached a fever pitch, Rolling Stone magazine’s managing editor today issued a mea culpa, saying the publication now has doubts about the account given by Jackie, the 20-year-old University student whose story launched a firestorm of reaction in Charlottesville and beyond, including a local police investigation, a state-ordered probe of UVA’s policies on sexual assault and the suspension of all Greeks on Grounds.
“In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced,” wrote Will Dana in a statement posted on Rolling Stone’s website this afternoon. “We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.
The Washington Post led what in the last week has become a steady stream of criticism of freelance journalist and contributing Rolling Stone editor Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s reporting on “A Rape on Campus,” including the fact that she never attempted to contact any of the men Jackie accused of raping her at a Phi Kappa Psi fraternity party on September 28, 2012—and that she and her editor offered conflicting statements about how the piece was reported and fact-checked. C-VILLE sought comment from Erdely and Rolling Stone earlier this week, and did not receive a response.
Today, the Post published an extensive piece detailing numerous issues with the story. The UVA chapter of Phi Kappa Psi has released a statement saying that it did not host a party or “date function” on the weekend in question, and that according to a roster of employees at UVA’s Aquatic and Fitness Center, no fraternity member worked there in 2012. In Jackie’s account, the alleged ringleader of the assault was a Phi Kappa Psi third-year who was a fellow lifeguard at the pool.
The Post story quotes Jackie’s friends and fellow sexual assault awareness advocates as saying they now doubt her story, claiming details of it have changed: Jackie finally provided them with the real name of her attacker this week, the Post reported, which is similar to the name of a student in a different fraternity, who when reached said he did work at the pool and knew Jackie’s name but had never met her or gone on a date with her.
One of those friends is Emily Renda, a 2014 UVA alumna who became an activist and victim advocate after she was assaulted in her first year at the University. Renda, who now works as a project coordinator on sexual assault prevention in UVA’s Student Affairs Office, introduced Erdely to Jackie this past summer. C-VILLE spoke with Renda shortly after the Rolling Stone story was published, and she and others shared initial qualms about the way Erdely framed the issue of sexual assault at UVA and the way she represented Renda and other activists. When reached for comment this afternoon, Renda shared this statement:
“It’s an advocate’s job to believe and support, never to play investigator or adjudicator. I didn’t and don’t question Jackie’s credibility because that is not my role. Rolling Stone played adjudicator, investigator and advocate—and did a slipshod job at that. As a result Jackie suffers, the young men in Phi Kappa Psi suffered, and survivors everywhere can unfairly be called into question. We still have to build a culture of support and reporting so that justice can be done right and survivors can find healing. Rolling Stone has run roughshod over years of advocacy, over fairness and justice, and ultimately, over Jackie.”
Jackie never reported the alleged rape to police, and while she did eventually report her assault to UVA deans, she did not seek any internal resolution through the school’s Sexual Misconduct Board, and the University indicated in a statement shortly after the publication of the Rolling Stone piece that the magazine story included details that were never disclosed to administrators.
The Charlottesville Police Department, which launched an investigation of the alleged rape after the story ran, will continue looking into the allegations.
“Our purpose is to find the truth in any matter and that’s what we are looking for here,” Captain Gary Pleasants said Friday afternoon. “These articles do not change our focus moving forward.”
Attorney General Mark Herring, who ordered an inquiry into UVA’s policies on sexual assault in the wake of the Rolling Stone story, also issued a statement Friday:
“It is deeply troubling that Rolling Stone magazine is now publicly walking away from its central storyline in its bombshell report on the University of Virginia without correcting what errors its editors believe were made. Virginians are now left grasping for the truth, but we must not let that undermine our support for survivors of sexual assault or the momentum for solutions.
“Months before the Rolling Stone article, the Commonwealth, the nation, and the University itself had begun addressing sexual violence on campus as a crisis. Nothing should or will distract from that critical work. I chair the Governor’s Task Force on Combating Campus Sexual Violence, which will develop recommendations on prevention, response, and law enforcement reforms in the coming months. Additionally, the Charlottesville Police Department and an independent counsel team are separately looking at all aspects of this particular allegation, as well as the University’s policies, procedures, and culture.
“While today’s revelations from the magazine leave us with serious questions, we must not lose the sense of urgency that students, alumni, campus leaders, law enforcement, and many Virginians have brought to this conversation.”
UVA President Teresa Sullivan issued the following statement Friday evening:
“The University of Virginia is aware of today’s reports from the Washington Post and the statement from Rolling Stone magazine.
“The University remains first and foremost concerned with the care and support of our students and, especially, any survivor of sexual assault. Our students, their safety, and their wellbeing, remain our top priority.
“Over the past two weeks, our community has been more focused than ever on one of the most difficult and critical issues facing higher education today: sexual violence on college campuses. Today’s news must not alter this focus.
“We will continue to take a hard look at our practices, policies and procedures, and continue to dedicate ourselves to becoming a model institution in our educational programming, in the character of our student culture, and in our care for those who are victims.
“We are a learning community, and we will continue our community-wide discussions and actions on these important issues in the weeks and months ahead. We remain committed to taking action as necessary to bring about meaningful cultural change in our University community.”