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Rolling Stone: UVA rape story might be inaccurate

Bob Mical
Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.
  1. Rolling Stone has issued an apology for its story "A Rape On Campus," which detailed a graphic gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity, after major discrepancies emerged in the victim's story.
  2. Earlier this week, journalists at other outlets pointed out that the students accused of gang rape — including the man who Jackie said arranged the assault, who was described in detail but not named — were not contacted for comment.
  3. The Rolling Stone story has catalyzed a national conversation on sexual assault on campus, an issue the Obama administration has tried to tackle more aggressively this year.

UVA promised a full investigation of the alleged gang rape

The Rolling Stone story centers around a woman named Jackie (who only allowed for her first name to be used), who describes an alleged gang rape at a UVA fraternity when she was a freshman, which she says was perpetrated by seven fraternity brothers. She tells the story of a university that did not do nearly enough to help her in the aftermath.

Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the reporter, agreed not to contact the men Jackie accused of a gang rape two years ago in deference to her feelings. She also appeared not to interview the three friends who met Jackie at the fraternity house the night Jackie said she was raped. (One declined an interview, and the friends are referred to by pseudonyms.) This week, reporters at other media outlets pointed out those omissions.

These are the discrepancies in Jackie's story

The fraternity where the rape allegedly took place, Phi Kappa Psi, says it didn't host a party on Sept. 28, 2012 — the night Jackie says she was gang-raped there, according to the Washington Post. It also says no members of the fraternity were working as lifeguards at the campus aquatic center that year. Jackie says she met "Drew," who invited her to the house and orchestrated the rape, while they were both working at the pool.

Rolling Stone never verified these details, it appears, in part because they were told Drew's real name. Jackie's close friends didn't know his full name until this week, according to the Post. And now that they do, some told the Post that they're starting to doubt her story. A man with a "similar" name had worked as a lifeguard but wasn't a member of Phi Kappa Psi.

Jackie also told the Post that after initial interviews she was traumatized and asked to be taken out of the article, but Erdely pressured her. This is Phi Kappa Psi's full statement:

Rolling Stone's statement apologizes to its readers

This is Rolling Stone's statement on the story, from managing editor Will Dana:

Last month, Rolling Stone published a story titled "A Rape on Campus" by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, which described a brutal gang rape of a woman named Jackie at a University of Virginia fraternity house; the university's failure to respond to this alleged assault – and the school's troubling history of indifference to many other instances of alleged sexual assaults. The story generated worldwide headlines and much soul-searching at UVA. University president Teresa Sullivan promised a full investigation and also to examine the way the school responds to sexual assault allegations.

Because of the sensitive nature of Jackie's story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her. In the months Erdely spent reporting the story, Jackie neither said nor did anything that made Erdely, or Rolling Stone's editors and fact-checkers, question Jackie's credibility. Her friends and rape activists on campus strongly supported Jackie's account. She had spoken of the assault in campus forums. We reached out to both the local branch and the national leadership of the fraternity where Jackie said she was attacked. They responded that they couldn't confirm or deny her story but had concerns about the evidence.

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.

False rape allegations are rare

Only between 2 percent and 8 percent of rape allegations are fabricated. (Since Jackie never made a formal complaint to UVA or to Charlottesville or campus police, she technically didn't make an allegation.) And Jackie, who the Post says has been diagnosed with PTSD, says the Rolling Stone story is true, even if some details were inaccurate.

The fear for activists now is that the inaccuracies in Rolling Stone's story will undermine the outrage that built around campus sexual assault. "While the details of this one case may have been misreported, this does not erase the somber truth this article brought to light: Rape is far more prevalent than we realize and it is often misunderstood and mishandled by peers, institutions, and society at large," Pinkleton told the Post.