UVA’s Nicole Eramo blasts Rolling Stone in letter sent via attorneys

UVA Associate Dean Nicole Eramo. Photo: UVA University Communications UVA Associate Dean Nicole Eramo. Photo: UVA University Communications

A UVA dean dragged into the national spotlight by Rolling Stone’s retracted story about rape at the University is speaking out about what she says is a failure by the magazine to own up to and remedy damage inflicted on her and the school.

Nicole Eramo, an associate dean of students and UVA’s point person for sexual assault response, today sent a scathing four-page letter to Rolling Stone publisher Jann S. Wenner calling the magazine’s retraction of “A Rape on Campus” and its public shaming by the Columbia Journalism Review “too little, too late.”

The letter was shared with C-VILLE by Eramo’s attorneys at Clare Locke, an Alexandria-based firm known for representing clients in high-profile defamation cases. Partner Libby Locke would not say whether Eramo plans to take legal action against Rolling Stone, but emphasized that the firm continues to represent her.

This isn’t the first time that Eramo has criticized what she says was a deeply inaccurate portrayal of the response by the University and by her to the claims of “Jackie,” the alleged victim at the center of the piece by freelance reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely. Eramo wrote to Columbia School of Journalism Dean Steve Coll during the school’s review of the Rolling Stone story, and her statement made it into the Columbia Journalism Review’s eventual 13,000-word report on the article. In it, she accused the magazine of making false statements about her words and actions, and said Erdely’s piece “trivializes the complexities of providing trauma-informed support to survivors and the real difficulties inherent in balancing respect for the wishes of survivors while also providing for the safety of our communities.”

The letter she sent today, which Locke said was not vetted by UVA, is a more detailed and more emotional response. In it, Eramo says she and her attorneys met with unnamed individuals at the magazine after the story fell apart but well before the Columbia review was released, seeking a full retraction and apology for the way she and UVA were portrayed. She got neither.

“In February 2015, your attorneys flatly told us that, even though the information Jackie told the magazine about her assault had already been publicly discredited, Rolling Stone ‘stood by’ its reporting in the article about me and about the University’s ‘inaction’ (their words) in responding to Jackie and other victims of sexual assault,” Eramo writes. “Adding insult to injury, your attorneys said that the article’s portrayal of me—which cast me as an unsympathetic and manipulative false friend to sexual assault victims who is more interested in keeping assault statistics down than providing meaningful guidance to victims or holding perpetrators of sexual assault accountable—was ‘fair.’

“The true facts are very different,” she continues. “The Charlottesville Police Department and the Columbia Journalism School have both confirmed that the University encouraged Jackie to take action—and assisted her in doing so—but she refused to proceed. Specifically, I encouraged Jackie to report the alleged assault to the authorities, and I arranged for Jackie to meet with detectives almost immediately after she provided information identifying that she had been victimized at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house. (To be clear, I did much more, but federal law prohibits me from discussing it with the media.) As the Charlottesville Police Department’s press release makes clear, Jackie met twice with investigators (at my encouragement) in April and May of 2014, but she refused to provide any specific details about her assault and chose not to cooperate with any criminal investigation.

“These are all things that Rolling Stone would have figured out if its reporters, editors, and fact checkers had not made a calculated decision not to contact sources who would have contradicted Rolling Stone’s preconceived storyline. But Jackie’s story of being victimized by a brutal gang rape at the hands of a UVA fraternity was simply too enticing not to publish—and UVA, its administration, and its students were too easily painted as callous villains for Rolling Stone to be burdened by the facts.”

Eramo’s letter goes on to say she received abusive and threatening e-mails and phone calls after the story was published. People told her they hoped she was raped and killed, she says.

“Equally distressing—not only to me, but to the students and victims with whom I work—is the fact that while the false allegations in the magazine were being investigated, the University had no choice but to remove me from working with the students with whom I had spent so much time building a relationship, forcing them to ‘start over’ with someone else,” she writes.

Her letter makes no specific demands, nor does it directly threaten a lawsuit. But it does claim the magazine’s public comments about its journalistic failures and its promises to institute newsroom reforms are inadequate.

“These steps are not good enough,” Eramo’s letter concludes. “The University of Virginia—and those of us who work for the University supporting victims of sexual assault—deserve better.”

To read the full text of Eramo’s letter, click here.