CHARLOTTESVILLE — A federal court jury decided Friday that a Rolling Stone journalist defamed a former University of Virginia associate dean in a 2014 magazine article about sexual assault on campus that included a debunked account of a fraternity gang rape.
The 10-member jury concluded that the Rolling Stone reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, was responsible for defamation, with actual malice, in the case brought by Nicole Eramo, a U-Va. administrator who oversaw sexual violence cases at the time of the article’s publication. The jury also found the magazine and its parent company, Wenner Media, responsible for defaming Eramo, who has said her life’s work helping sexual assault victims was devastated as a result of Rolling Stone’s article and its aftermath.
The lawsuit centered on Erdely’s 9,000-word article titled “A Rape on Campus,” which appeared online in late November 2014 and on newsstands in the magazine’s December 2014 issue. Opening with a graphic depiction of a fraternity gang rape, the story caused an immediate sensation at a time of heightened awareness of campus sexual assault, going viral online and reverberating through the U-Va. community.
But within days of the article’s publication, key elements of the account fell apart under scrutiny, including the narrative’s shocking allegation of a fraternity gang rape. The magazine eventually retracted the story in April 2015, and Eramo’s lawsuit came a month later, alleging that the magazine’s portrayal of her as callous and dismissive of rape reports on campus was untrue and unfair.
This case caused loss of reputation on a national level. Nicole Eramo no longer is an assistant dean. The fraternity and its members suffered loss of reputation that can never really be regained. Thousands of Greek members lost a slice out of their social lives when President Sullivan suspended activities. The accusations costs millions of dollars when all is said and done.
Worst of all, “Jackie” and Rolling Stone set the progress made in addressing sexual assault back light-years.
Our natural inclination (hopefully) is to be appalled and outraged when we hear of sexual assault. Our fury increases when we hear of cases of multiple assault, especially on a college campus. Is it because we expect better from those in a more privilege class? Perhaps. When Jackie’s” case came to the forefront at UVA, life as they knew it at the University came to a screeching halt. Fingers were pointed. Blame was assigned. How people at the University viewed each other suddenly changed and not for the good.
Now that good names have been cleared, some 2 years later, the question now becomes, what are the consequences for “Jackie?” Why are we still calling her “Jackie?” Why isn’t her real name being splattered across every newspaper in the country like Nicole Eramo’s name was? This girl did a horrible thing to her university, a fraternity, and to individuals. She impugned a city who was still reeling from the disappearance and vicious murder of of a UVA student.
She should be prosecuted for bearing false witness; for reporting a crime that didn’t exist. I don’t care that she “has issues.” People are jailed every day who “have issues.” Drunk drivers “have issues” yet they are jailed if they injure someone. There should be consequences for one’s evil deeds.
We should continue to be outraged over sexual assault. The only way to do this is to punish people like “Jackie” and Crystal Gail Mangum who falsely accused the Duke lacrosse players of rape. “Crying Wolf” about rape and other forms of sexual assault is unacceptable, illegal and should be prosecuted. Only when women like this (I know, it isn’t only women) know and understand that the charge of sexual assault is extremely serious will we really be able to fight real sexual assault. We shouldn’t have to stop and ask ourselves, “Is this another ‘Jackie’?”
(Disclaimer: I fell for the Rolling Stone story also. I don’t question those who claim rape. I had a friend in college who was gang raped at a fraternity party (NOT UVA). I know it can happen. However, something in this story just didn’t pass the whiff test. I grew up 4 blocks from where the incident allegedly too place. Something just didn’t feel right…but who am I to question someone who cries rape….?) The Washington Post exposé that blew holes in the Rolling Stone story convinced me that this girl was a liar.