Rolling Stone says it no longer trusts the account of a brutal gang rape described in an explosive story it published last month about sexual assaults at the University of Virginia.
The story, written by contributing editor Sabrina Rubin Erdely, opens with a grisly account from a woman identified only as Jackie, who described being attacked by several members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, sexually assaulted for hours and raped with a beer bottle at their fraternity house.
The article sparked anger and protests, and prompted the University of Virginia to suspend all fraternity activities until next year. The university also pledged to reexamine the way it handles sexual assault allegations and asked police to investigate the alleged assault, which Jackie said in the article occurred in 2012 when she was a freshman.
In a statement issued on the Rolling Stone website and appended to the top of the article, managing editor Will Dana says “there now appear to be discrepancies” in the woman’s account, and that editors have “come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced.”
While reporting the story, the magazine did not contact the men Jackie alleged raped her and it has been criticized for that in recent days. Rolling Stone says the fraternity and its national leadership would not confirm or deny the claims, and that Jackie “neither said nor did” anything that made the reporter question her credibility.
Dana said the magazine now regrets the decision not to contact her alleged rapists or the man she claimed orchestrated the attack. “We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault,” Dana wrote. “We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.”
In a statement released shortly after the apology, the UVA’s Phi Kappa Psi chapter -- whose house was the site of the episode described in the magazine -- said it had no knowledge of the alleged attacks.
“Our initial doubts as to the accuracy of the article have only been strengthened as alumni and undergraduate members have delved deeper,” the statement said.
The chapter pointed to several inconsistencies in the story, the result of what it called “internal fact-finding” over the last two weeks.
The chapter did not hold a date function or social event during the weekend of Sept. 28, 2012, the night Jackie claimed she was raped, it said. The fraternity also said no member was employed at the campus pool in 2012, a detail the woman recalled about the man she claimed orchestrated the attack.
“No ritualized sexual assault is part of our pledging or initiation process,” the fraternity’s statement continued. “This notion is vile, and we vehemently refute this claim.”
In a follow-up to Rolling Stone’s apology, Dana tweeted that he “can’t explain the discrepancies” between Jackie’s account and the fraternity’s statement. “We made a judgement -- the kind of judgement reporters and editors make every day. And in this case, our judgement was wrong,” Dana tweeted. “We should have either not made this agreement with Jackie, or worked harder to convince her that the truth would have been better served by getting the other side of the story. That failure is on us -- not her.”
The clarification came after several critics reacted to the publication’s initial apology, which focused attention on Jackie’s credibility and the fact that editors had concluded their “trust in her was misplaced.” Many expressed on social media that the publication had not owned up to the apparent basic failures in their journalism.
Dana’s tweets, and the apology issued by him Friday, claim that Rolling Stone decided not to reach out to the alleged rapists because of an “agreement” with Jackie, who had asked the magazine not to speak to the men. But in earlier statements, both Erdely and Sean Woods, who edited the story, suggested that they had tried to reach the men, but couldn’t.
Reached by email, a Rolling Stone spokeswoman declined to comment further, saying the magazine was “continuing to investigate the situation.” She confirmed that Woods was still with Rolling Stone.
In interviews with the Washington Post, several of Jackie’s close friends expressed doubts about her story, the newspaper reported. Alex Pinkleton, a close friend of the woman and a rape survivor, told the Post that after speaking to Jackie in recent days, she now feels misled. “One of my biggest fears with these inconsistencies is that people will be unwilling to believe survivors in the future,” Pinkleton told the Post.
The Post also reported that in an interview with Jackie on Thursday, the day before Rolling Stone issued its apology, the woman contradicted an earlier account by saying she did not know if the man she says organized the alleged attack was a member of Phi Kappa Psi.
“I don’t even know what I believe at this point,” another friend, Emily Renda, told the newspaper. Renda said she had introduced Jackie to Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the Rolling Stone writer.
University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan said the school is aware of the reports discrediting the Rolling Stone story, and “remains first and foremost concerned with the care and support of our students and, especially, any survivor of sexual assault.”
“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,” Sullivan said in a statement. “Today’s news must not alter this focus.” UVA will continue to review its practices and policies related to sexual assault, Sullivan said.
Police in Charlottesville, Va., who had begun investigating the allegations at the request of the university, said it would continue its probe. “Our purpose is to find the truth in any matter and that’s what we are looking for here,” said Charlottesville police Capt. Gary Pleasants in a statement. “These articles do not change our focus going forward.”
For more breaking news, follow me @cmaiduc