Rolling Stone magazine ran an article about a woman’s account of gang rape at the University of Virgina. In the article, Jackie claimed that a fraternity member organized a gang rape against her. The accusations led to UVA shutting down all its fraternities until next year and an overhaul of the sexual assault policies on its campus. Other schools took similar measures.
Feminists ran with the accusation, using it as proof of the “rape culture” they claim is epidemic. Yet some people questioned the story, specifically the issue of relying solely on Jackie’s claims. With questions concerning the veracity of the interview mounting, Rolling Stone retracted its story. Here is the full statement:
To Our Readers:
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.
This could have been avoided had Rolling Stone bothered to fact-check the claims. It is not that they should not have listened to Jackie, her friends, and the activists who support her. It is that Rolling Stone should have gotten the other side of the story. It is one thing for the person making an accusation to turn down an interview; it is another for someone making an accusation to tell a journalist not to conduct an interview with the accused.
Had Erdely interviewed the accused, perhaps she would have discovered this:
The woman — whom Rolling Stone identified her as Jackie and who at the time of the alleged attack had just started her freshman year at the Charlottesville school — claimed she was raped by seven men at Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, while two more gave encouragement, during a party there.
Yet the University of Virginia’s Phi Kappa Psi chapter did not have a party the night of September 28, 2012, the date when the reported attack occurred, the fraternity chapter’s lawyer, Ben Warthen, told CNN. He said email records and Inter-fraternity Council records prove there was no party.
Warthen said there were other discrepancies in the accuser’s account. For example, the orchestrator of the alleged rape did not belong to the fraternity, the fraternity house has no side staircase and there were no pledges at that time of year.
“It’s not part of our culture,” Warthen said. “It’s just not true.”
It is possible Jackie was raped. It is possible she was gang raped. It is possible she was raped by those she accused. However, it does not appear possible that the story she told Rolling Stone is entirely true. That is something the writer and the editors should have considered before running the article.
In their defense, I will admit that the reason they failed to catch these problems is because they were attempting to do the right thing. They wanted to believe Jackie and appear to support female rape survivors. Therefore, they only spoke to Jackie and her friends. That left Rolling Stone in no position to hear anything that would lead them to question the story.
That said, when Jackie asked that Erdely not interview the accused, that should have raised some questions. No matter the reasons, one must admit it seems suspicious to publicly lodge a complaint against someone and then ask that this person not be interviewed.
All the problems here lie with Rolling Stone and its poor handling of this story. We do not know that Jackie lied about the gang rape. As I noted, perhaps it did happen. Perhaps it happened at another location. Perhaps it involved other people. It is also possible this is a lie. The entire story could be a lie. She could have conned everyone, including her friends and the activists.
We do not know, and given what happened to Rolling Stone when they jumped to conclusions, I suggest everyone else exercise restraint in calling Jackie a false accuser. Wait until more information becomes available.