Rolling Stone magazine had every reason to believe that its story alleging that a freshman named Jackie was gang-raped on Sept. 28, 2012, by seven men at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at the University of Virginia would stir a furor. Indeed it did, followed closely by a debunking, as The Washington Post has published inconsistencies with the story presented by the magazine about that night.
The controversy around the alleged gang rape has overshadowed other claims in the story by writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely. In addition to describing Jackie’s alleged assault, the Rolling Stone piece follows her through interactions with rape survivors and with the university administration. Thanks to her “ever expanding network,” writes Erdely, “Jackie had come across something deeply disturbing: two other young women who, she says, confided that they, too, had recently been Phi Kappa Psi gang-rape victims.” In May 2014, the story notes, Jackie apprised Associate Dean of Students Nicole P. Eramo of these gang-rape allegations. Erdely breaks down the cases: “One, she says, is a 2013 graduate, who’d told Jackie that she’d been gang-raped as a freshman at the Phi Psi house. The other was a first-year whose worried friends had called Jackie after the girl had come home wearing no pants. Jackie said the girl told her she’d been assaulted by four men in a Phi Psi bathroom while a fifth watched,” writes Erdely in the story.
What has come of these claims?
Lt. Stephen Upman, public information officer for the Charlottesville police department, says the police are not commenting further on any aspect of the Rolling Stone story until an investigation has “reached its logical conclusion.” At that point, says Upman, the department will issue a media release on the matter.
The national fraternity organization has attempted to track down the allegations, to no avail thus far. “We haven’t been able to find any information regarding those” allegations, says Shawn Collinsworth, executive director of Phi Kappa Psi. Reports of the additional two gang rapes, Collinsworth’s group was told by the university, came exclusively from Jackie, says the executive director in a chat with the Erik Wemple Blog.
If these allegations followed the same pattern as those regarding the seven-man rape, Rolling Stone needed no corroboration beyond Jackie’s statements. For evidence that the magazine didn’t fully corroborate the other claims, here’s how it represents the reporting about the two other alleged victims: “(Neither woman was willing to talk to RS.)”
In this story, Rolling Stone has vested such disclosures with vast possibilities. Many readers might suppose that “neither woman was willing to talk to RS” means that Erdely called and e-mailed them, but they refused to be interviewed. We know from other parts of the story, however, that such conclusions may be wrong. For instance, “A Rape on Campus” notes that one of Jackie’s friends — the pseudonymous “Randall” — “declined to be interviewed.” The Post later reported that “Randall” “was never contacted by Rolling Stone and would have agreed to an interview.” Also, Rolling Stone has conceded that it didn’t contact Jackie’s alleged assailants in deference to her wishes.
So: How does Rolling Stone know that these other alleged victims of gang rape at Phi Kappa Psi were unwilling to talk? We’ve asked the magazine about that, and they haven’t gotten back to us about it.
Further context regarding Phi Kappa Psi and gang rape: Though the Rolling Stone story said that Jackie’s trauma had taken place at this particular house, the friends that came to her aid on that night claim she didn’t “specifically identify” a fraternity that night.
A request for comment from an attorney for Jackie went unreturned. University of Virginia spokesman Anthony P. de Bruyn e-mailed the following statement: “The Charlottesville Police Department is investigating the alleged incident described in the article, and they have asked us not to publicly comment on the matter. Furthermore, an independent counsel has also been engaged by the state Attorney General and the University to review our policies, practices and procedures regarding sexual assault. Given the criminal investigation and the independent review, the University will have no further comment.”