Campus Free Speech

Frat Vindication

Rape report unravels


Rolling Stone was forced to retract an article about the gang rape of a University of Virginia (UVA) student after other journalists—and the Charlottesville police—determined that key assertions in the piece were false. The horrific attack as described by the alleged victim, "Jackie," almost certainly never happened.

The original story was the culmination of reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely's months-long investigation into UVA's sexual assault response practices. Erdely wanted an illustrative example to kick off her piece; she chose Jackie's tale of rape because its gruesome details made it a surefire attention grabber. Jackie claimed that a date, "Drew," brought her to a party at UVA's Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house in September 2012, lured her to an upstairs room, and held her down while seven men took turns raping her. Hours later, she said, she fled the house in a battered and bloodied state, but three friends stopped her from going to the police out of concern for their social reputations.

After skeptical publications—including reason—questioned the story, things quickly fell apart for Rolling Stone. There was no evidence that many of the conversations supporting Jackie's version of events had ever taken place. No party was held at Phi Psi on the night in question. Most damning, "Drew" apparently does not exist. Erdely's faith in her single source proved shortsighted.

In the aftermath, Rolling Stone agreed to let the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism investigate its reporting practices. The analysis determined that Erdely, her editors, and the magazine's fact checkers had violated basic rules of journalism in failing to properly vet the story. The accused fraternity has announced it intends to sue Rolling Stone.