CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Three weeks after a bombshell Rolling Stone article detailed an alleged brutal gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity, the fraternity released a statement that rebutted some of its central claims and the magazine is distancing itself from the article.
Will Dana, the managing editor of Rolling Stone, said in a statement Friday that the magazine had chosen not to contact any of the accused rapists at the request of “Jackie,” the alleged rape victim at the center of the story, but that the magazine's trust in Jackie had been "misplaced."
"In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie's account," Dana said. “We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story."
The Washington Post reported on Friday that officials close to the accused fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, or “Phi Psi,” can prove that several details of Jackie’s story are false. For instance, Jackie told Rolling Stone and The Washington Post in separate interviews that one of the alleged perpetrators was employed at a certain fitness center on campus when the rape happened in 2012, but no Phi Psi brother was employed at that facility at the time. Toward the end of its article, the Post reported that "Jackie contradicted an earlier interview" by saying she no longer knew if her "attacker actually was a member of Phi Kappa Psi."
Reached by The Huffington Post, friends of Jackie said she was under “extreme duress” and could not speak publicly at the moment.
The fraternity said it began its own internal review after the Rolling Stone article was released. One major flaw in the details of the alleged gang rape, according to the fraternity: The attack allegedly happened at the house during a party, but the fraternity said there was no “date function or social event” during the weekend in question. It also refuted the suggestion a “ritualized sexual assault” is part of its pledging of initiation process.
“Our initial doubts as to the accuracy of the article have only been strengthened as alumni and undergraduate members have delved deeper,” the Virginia Alpha chapter of Phi Psi said in a statement Friday.
The new information casting doubt on Jackie’s story is yet another huge development for a UVA campus that has been reeling from the original Rolling Stone story and, weeks earlier, the murder of student Hannah Graham.
Evidence of the emotional trauma endured by the community in Charlottesville was on display this past week. The windows of the Phi Psi house, where “Jackie” claimed the brutal rape occurred, were broken, boarded up and surrounded by piles of shattered glass, apparently having been pelted with rocks and bricks. The entire Greek system, which makes up nearly a third of the students at the sprawling state university, has been temporarily suspended, and its members banned from speaking to the media.
One freshman woman who is not in the Greek system -- a “first-year,” in UVA lingo-- told The Huffington Post on Thursday that she and her hallmates in the dorm no longer feel safe on campus.
“We’re scared to go out now, even in groups,” she said. “The fraternities are shut down anyway until January, but even if they weren’t, I don’t think there’d be any rush to go back.”
In the week following the publication of the Rolling Stone article, Jackie’s story reverberated across campus. Students say they discussed it in all of their classes. The Phi Psi house was vandalized, students and faculty staged multiple rallies on campus, and petitions circulated online for the university to permanently bar the fraternity from campus. The fraternity pulled its contact information from its website.
UVA had already been under federal investigation in 2011 over concerns with how the university handle sexual violence on campus, but the Rolling Stone article published in November shined an even brighter spotlight on the issue.
Emily Renda, a rape survivor and advocate for victims on campus, as well as a friend of Jackie’s who was featured in the Rolling Stone article, criticized the magazine's reporting and how its fallout would hurt rape survivors.
“Rolling Stone decided to play all three roles of advocate, investigator and adjudicator, and those roles are kept separate and sacred for a reason,” Renda said. She worried these revelations would be “used to criticize survivors everywhere, which is cruel.”
The Board of Visitors, the governing body for the university, held an emergency three-hour meeting about sexual assault on campus. The university retained the law firm O’Melveny & Myers to review its handling of rape cases.
As for the legal fallout of what has transpired, the day before The Rolling Stone article was called into question, The Huffington Post sat down with Charlottesville Police Lt. Gary Pleasants to discuss the case. He said the police are “looking into an incident referred to us by the University of Virginia,” but that the effort falls short of what he would call a formal investigation.
“Our purpose is to find the truth in any matter and that’s what we are looking for here,” Pleasants told HuffPost Friday. “These articles do not change our focus moving forward.”
University President Teresa Sullivan released this statement Friday in response to the Rolling Stone inconsistencies:
I’m sure many of you are aware by now of today’s reports from the Washington Post and the statement from Rolling Stone magazine. While all of us who care about the University of Virginia are upset by the Rolling Stone story, I write now with a different message.
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. Here at U.Va., the safety of our students must continue to be our top priority, for all students, and especially for survivors of sexual assault.
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.
Now is the time for us to come together as a community to lead the way on this critical issue.
This story has been updated to include a comment from Emily Renda and the statement from Teresa Sullivan.