Rolling Stone Retracts Key Part of UVA Rape Story


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Virtually all details of the horrific gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity detailed in an engrossing Rolling Stone article last month are now either disputed our outright debunked. A terrific Washington Post investigation—which includes an interview with Jackie, the accuser—casts serious doubt on the narrative Jackie told to Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the author of the original Rolling Stone piece.

In light of these developments, Rolling Stone is no longer standing by its story. In a statement to readers, Managing Editor Will Dana wrote:

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. 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 "affected" parties include many at the University of Virginia. The college administration, which had assumed the allegations were true, responded to the story by suspending all fraternity activities and promising more vigorous policing of the campus's party scene.

But according to The Washington Post, Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity that Jackie insisted hosted the party where she was raped on September 28th, 2012, will assert that no such event took place and that none of its members worked at the university's swimming pool that semester—a detail important to the story, since Jackie had claimed that her date to the party, a key perpetrator in the assault, was a co-lifeguard.

According to WaPost, Jackie's friends no longer believe that she was truthful about what happened to her:

A group of Jackie's close friends, who are sex assault advocates at U-Va., said they believe something traumatic happened to Jackie but have come to doubt her account. They said details have changed over time, and they have not been able to verify key points of the story in recent days. A name of an alleged attacker that Jackie provided to them for the first time this week, for example, turned out to be similar to the name of a student who belongs to a different fraternity, and no one by that name has been a member of Phi Kappa Psi.

Reached by phone, that man, a U-Va. graduate, said Friday that he did work at the Aquatic Fitness Center and was familiar with Jackie's name. He said, however, that he had never met Jackie in person and had never taken her on a date. He also confirmed that he was not a member of Phi Kappa Psi.

Emily Renda, a friend of Jackie's and survivor of sexual assault who was quoted in the initial story, now tells WaPost that she feels misled:

Renda said on Thursday that Jackie initially told her that she was attacked by five students at Phi Kappa Psi on Sept. 28, 2012. Renda said that she learned months later that Jackie had changed the number of attackers from five to seven.

"An advocate is not supposed to be an investigator, a judge or an adjudicator," said Renda,a 2014 graduate who works for the university as a sexual violence awareness specialist. But as details emerge that cast doubt on Jackie's account, Renda said, "I don't even know what I believe at this point."

"This feels like a betrayal of good advocacy if this is not true," Renda said. "We teach people to believe the victims. We know there are false reports but those are extraordinarily low."

There is much more of this in the full Post story.

In light of all this new information, it's impossible to say what exactly happened to Jackie. But it's clear that her story, as told to Erdely, is false. Not slightly false, or partly false, but false. And if Rolling Stone had done its job, the magazine might well have determined that before such a journalistic catastrophe unfolded.

Read my previous report on the UVA situation—one of the earliest stories to express skepticism of Rolling Stone—here.