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Defamed UVA Administer Nicole Eramo Talks Trial, Moving Forward

Posted: Updated: Jun 22, 2017 05:23 PM
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

Nicole Eramo says she always wanted to do something big with her life, and was on track to do that.

But then life threw her a curve in November 2014, one she didn't think she could recover from.

Things are now changing for the University of Virginia administrator as she finds other ways to write a new chapter in her personal journey.

NBC29’s Henry Graff spoke at length with Eramo about the now-redacted article in Rolling Stone Magazine, the court battle over it, and how she is continuing her fight against sexual violence.

"To say that I was wronged in some way it felt, it felt really good in the end. But it was a really difficult process to get there," said Eramo, reflecting on the jury’s verdict.

Eramo was an associate dean of students at the University of Virginia when she filed a defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone, publisher Wenner Media, and author Sabrina Rubin Erdely in Charlottesville Circuit Court on May 12, 2015. The lawsuit, which sought over $7 million in damages, moved to federal court on May 29, 2015.

Rolling Stone published Erdely’s article “A Rape on Campus,” in its November 2014 issue. The article focused on a UVA student known as “Jackie,” who described being gang raped at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house in 2012. Eramo’s lawsuit argued that Erdely portrayed her as indifferent to Jackie’s claims.

Erdely’s article was eventually debunked through investigations, and redacted by Rolling Stone.

However, jury selection wouldn’t get underway until October 17, 2016. Jury deliberations began in the morning of November 2, and stretched into three days.  

Eramo said she felt intimated by that lengthy federal trial.

"I had a pump-up song every day that I would ride to the courthouse in to get ready. It was from ‘Hamilton’," she said.

It was that musical routine, along with the support of family and friends that got Eramo through each grueling day inside the federal courtroom. She took the witness stand, but so did the woman behind the article.

“It was difficult to sit, you know, 10 feet from Ms. Erdely while she testified every day. I didn't anticipate how difficult that would be," recalled Eramo. “The extent to which she [Erdely] spoke to my students about feeling, like I had acted inappropriately, that was very difficult to hear."

Erdely would ultimately testify for nearly five days. The court would also hear from Rolling Stone’s editor, fact-checker, and publisher.

"You go into that process hoping to get justice, hoping to get people to take responsibility for their actions. I never felt like that happened," said Eramo looking back on how the defendants handled Erdely’s article.

Jurors found the magazine, its publisher, and Erdely were responsible for libel with actual malice. They also decided to award Eramo $3 million in damages.

"It was vindicating," she said of the jury’s decision.

After the trial, Eramo returned to UVA in a student affairs role: “I came back to work and my office was full of balloons and a big card from students that I know, welcoming me back."

Eramo says she cares about sexual assault survivors, and Rolling Stone got it plain wrong.

"We felt like we were on the right side. I knew that I was telling the truth," she said.

Truth is what Eramo is holding onto, putting a very dark chapter in her life to rest, and finally writing one she's in charge of: "It felt like I was finally at the end of a really long journey."

Eramo is taking money and starting a fund at the University of Virginia to take the fight against sexual violence to a new level. She has donated $50,000 toward a fund to help survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, but hopes to raise 10 times that amount.

"I promised at that time that any funds that were donated would be donated back to the university if I were successful in the lawsuit," Eramo said.

The Sylvia Eramo Fund for Prevention of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence is named after her grandmother, who inspired her to get the endowment up and running: "In a way I feel like it moves her legacy forward and I know that she would be really proud of what I'm doing and that makes me really happy."

Eramo wants the funds to go to the Green Dot Violence Prevention program, which she hopes to expand beyond the university and into the community. She is also working to raise funds for the Sexual Assault Resource Agency.

"I'm trying to stay involved where I can," said Eramo.

Even though she no longer works face-to-face with student sexual assault survivors, she is reaching them through these new endeavors. She says, "I hope they see me as someone who always had the interest of survivors and students at the center of my work. That was absolutely where I was and who I was and I still am today."

Eramo says she doesn't blame Jackie. She saw her during Jackie’s video-taped deposition, which was played in court. That would be the first time they saw each other since Erdely’s article came out, and the last.

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