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Rolling Stone Now Doubts Victim in UVA Rape Allegation

Posted: Updated: Dec 05, 2014 09:39 PM
Screenshot of the original article on the Rolling Stone website Screenshot of the original article on the Rolling Stone website
Rolling Stone is casting doubt on a young woman's account of being gang raped at a fraternity party at the University of Virginia. A story originally published in a Rolling Stone article last month and has put a spotlight on the issue of sexual assault on college campuses in the U.S.  In the article, a woman known as 'Jackie' described being brutally gang raped at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at UVA in September 2012.

In a statement posted to its website on Friday, the magazine says that there now appear to be discrepancies in the account given by Jackie.The statement says in part: "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." 

The Virginia alpha chapter of Phi Kappa Psi issued a statement Friday saying that it also doubts parts of the article, "Our initial doubts as to the accuracy of the article have only been strengthened as alumni and undergraduate members have delved deeper."

In the release Phi Kappa Psi says the 2012 roster of employees at the Aquatic and Fitness Center does not list a Phi Kappa Psi member as a lifeguard, the chapter did not have a date function or social event during the weekend of September 28. 2012, and the chapter's pledging periods happen in the spring. Lastly, the release says "no ritualized sexual assault is part of their pledging process," calling it a "vile" notion. Read the full Phi Kappa Psi statement here.

The Washington Post also published an article casting doubt on Jackie's story Friday. Rachel Soltis, who was a suite mate of Jackie's, released the following statement about the Washington Post article: "Jackie feels that the Washington Post misrepresented and manipulated her and several other people involved in the Rolling Stone article."

Jackie has retained a lawyer from the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society. Attorney Palma Pustilnik says she and Jackie will discuss Friday's developments this weekend and are not commenting at this point.

UVA President Teresa Sullivan issued a statement Friday, saying, "The University remains first and foremost concerned with the care and support of our students and, especially, any survivor of sexual assault. Our students, their safety, and their wellbeing, remain our top priority. Over the past two weeks, our community has been more focused than ever on one of the most difficult and critical issues facing higher education today: sexual violence on college campuses. Today's news must not alter this focus."  See Sullivan's full statement below.

University of Virginia Board of Visitor member Helen Dragas says the credibility questions shouldn't distract from the next steps at UVA. In a response to Daily Progress reporter, Katy Evans, Dragas said "No matter how this started the fact remains that many have come forward with credible personal stories. And work continues on to ensure a permanent culture of change.”

Many students we spoke with on Friday say they're surprised by the news, but regardless of whether the alleged gang rape actually happened, they're glad it sparked conversations about safety at UVA. Several students shared the feeling that despite negative attention, positive change has taken place. Many hope the activism and sexual misconduct policy reforms will continue. They say discussions about bystander intervention and stopping rape before it happens are especially important. They say sexual assault isn't just UVA problem, it's a problem across the country.  One of Jackie's closest friends, Annie Forrest, stated "although this one incident is called into question, we must continue to push for cultural change for all survivors."

Victoria Olwell, an associate professor at UVA who has helped organize a protest on Beta Bridge wrote, "I think that we've seen in the last two weeks how effective we can be in mobilizing students, staff, faculty, and the administration to prevent sexual assault and penalize it more severely. I can't imagine that the faculty of the University of Virginia will let the shoddy journalism of Rolling Stone stand in the way of creating conditions and policies that protect our students from sexual assault."

Charlottesville police say their investigation into the rape is ongoing and the fraternity is cooperating with police. The department says the articles Friday do not change its focus moving forward.  "Our purpose is to find the truth in any matter and that's what we are looking for here." Captain Gary Pleasants stated.


Attorney General Mark Herring Statement: 

"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. Virginians are now left grasping for the truth, but we must not let that undermine our support for survivors of sexual assault or the momentum for solutions.

"Months before the Rolling Stone article, the Commonwealth, the nation, and the University itself had begun addressing sexual violence on campus as a crisis. Nothing should or will distract from that critical work. I chair the Governor's Task Force on Combating Campus Sexual Violence, which will develop recommendations on prevention, response, and law enforcement reforms in the coming months. Additionally,the Charlottesville Police Department and an independent counsel team are separately looking at all aspects of this particular allegation, as well as the University's policies, procedures, and culture.

"While today's revelations from the magazine leave us with serious questions, we must not lose the sense of urgency that students, alumni, campus leaders, law enforcement, and many Virginians have brought to this conversation."


Statement of University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan:

University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan today issued the following statement:

The University of Virginia is aware of today's reports from the Washington Post and the statement from Rolling Stone magazine.

The University remains first and foremost concerned with the care and support of our students and, especially, any survivor of sexual assault. Our students, their safety, and their wellbeing, remain our top priority.

Over the past two weeks, our community has been more focused than ever on one of the most difficult and critical issues facing higher education today: sexual violence on college campuses. Today's news must not alter this focus.

We will continue to take a hard look at our practices, policies and procedures, and continue to dedicate ourselves to becoming a model institution in our educational programming, in the character of our student culture, and in our care for those who are victims.

We are a learning community, and we will continue our community-wide discussions and actions on these important issues in the weeks and months ahead. We remain committed to taking action as necessary to bring about meaningful cultural change in our University community.


Letter from UVA associate professor Victoria Olwell:

I'm just one of many members of the faculty who have been working hard over the last couple of weeks to find ways to prevent sexual assault. I do have a few thoughts, though, in response to the Rolling Stone's discrepancies. They boil down to these:

-The prevalence of sexual assault on university campuses and our society more generally is well-established. I think that we've seen in the last two weeks how effective we can be in mobilizing students, staff, faculty, and the administration to prevent sexual assault and penalize it more severely. I can't imagine that the faculty of the University of Virginia will let the shoddy journalism of Rolling Stone stand in the way of creating conditions and policies that protect our students from sexual assault.-The major substance of Jackie's allegations still needs to be investigated. The inconsistencies that the Washington Post reveals about her story have to do with details of place and date that can be difficult for a traumatized person to report accurately. They don't prove that she wasn't assaulted, just that her allegations require the thorough and impartial investigation that they should have gotten when she first reported her assault.