Advocates fear impact of Rolling Stone apology
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia (AP) — Advocates for sexual-assault victims say Rolling Stone’s backpedaling from an explosive account of a gang rape at the University of Virginia doesn’t change the fact that rape is a problem on college campuses and must be confronted — even as some expressed concern that the magazine’s apology could discourage victims from coming forward.
Students, state government and education leaders, meanwhile, pledged to continue ongoing efforts to adequately respond to — and prevent — sexual assaults on campus.
Rolling Stone cast doubt on its story Friday of a gang rape by a woman it identified only as “Jackie,” saying it has since learned of “discrepancies” in her account.
“Our trust in her was misplaced,” the magazine’s editor, Will Dana, wrote in a signed apology.
The lengthy article published last month used Jackie’s case as an example of what it called a culture of sexual violence hiding in plain sight at the University of Virginia.
Alison Kiss, executive director of the Clery Center for Security On Campus, said groups who work in the area will be concerned about a “chilling effect” Rolling Stone’s apology could have on sexual-assault victims reporting the crimes.
But she said the magazine’s announcement Friday “doesn’t change the facts: Sexual assault on campus is drastically underreported and false reports are incredibly rare.”
Emily Renda, the university’s project coordinator for sexual misconduct, policy and prevention, and a member of the governor’s Task Force on Combating Campus Sexual Violence, said she didn’t question Jackie’s credibility because that wasn’t her role. Renda knows Jackie and also was interviewed for the Rolling Stone article.
“Rolling Stone played adjudicator, investigator and advocate — and did a slipshod job at that,” added Renda, a May graduate who said she was raped her freshman year at the school. “As a result Jackie suffers, the young men in Phi Kappa Psi suffered, and survivors everywhere can unfairly be called into question.”
Rolling Stone said that because Jackie’s story was sensitive, the magazine honored her request not to contact the men who she claimed organized and participated in the attack. That prompted criticism from other news organizations.
The statement Rolling Stone posted on its website said discrepancies in the woman’s account became apparent “in the face of new information,” but provided no details about what facts might be in question.
That wasn’t enough for some.
“It is deeply troubling that Rolling Stone magazine is now publicly walking away from its central storyline in its bombshell report on the University of Virginia without correcting what errors its editors believe were made,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement.
The original story noted that a dangerous mix of alcohol, date-rape drugs and forced sex at fraternity parties is by no means unique to any one U.S. university. In fact, the University of Virginia is one of 90 schools facing sexual-violence investigations from the Education Department.
But the University of Virginia was roiled by the article, whose main allegation was that too many people at the university put protecting the school’s image and their own reputations above seeking justice for sex crimes. The story prompted protests, classroom debates, formal investigations and a suspension of fraternity activities.
Phi Kappa Psi, where the gang rape allegedly occurred on Sept. 28, 2012, was attacked after the article was published, with cinderblocks thrown through the fraternity house’s windows.
The fraternity issued its own statement disputing the account of Jackie, who described being led upstairs by her date, who then allegedly orchestrated her gang-rape by seven men as he and another watched.
“We continue to be shocked by the allegations and saddened by this story,” the statement said. “We have no knowledge of these alleged acts being committed at our house or by our members. Anyone who commits any form of sexual assault, wherever or whenever, should be identified and brought to justice.”
College officials and state leaders said Friday’s developments would not stop ongoing efforts to respond to — and prevent — sexual assaults on campus.
Over the past two weeks, the college community “has been more focused than ever” on the issue, University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan said Friday in a statement. She asked Charlottesville police to investigate the alleged gang rape.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s spokeswoman, Rachel Thomas, said the governor has asked for an investigation.
Frommer reported from Washington. Associated Press Writer Greg Schreier in Atlanta contributed to this report.