In times of crisis, countless University of Virginia students have turned to Associate Dean Nicole Eramo.
From her campus office in Peabody Hall, Eramo counsels young adults — mostly women — in the aftermath of what is in most cases the darkest moment of their lives: deciding what to do after they have been sexually assaulted.
“All the things she did and continues to do are really in the best interest of students,” said Emily Renda, a 2014 graduate who said Eramo supported her as a student seeking to come to terms with her own rape on campus.
But in November, a sensational Rolling Stone magazine account — since discredited and retracted — described Eramo as callous and indifferent to one student’s claims that she was gang-raped at a fraternity in 2012. The article alleged that U-Va. systemically pushed aside rape cases and left victims struggling.
“I felt that it was a total misrepresentation of who she is,” said Renda, who now works alongside Eramo at U-Va. on sexual-assault prevention issues.
“After the article came out, I felt disgusted by the way Dean Eramo was portrayed,” said junior Alex Pinkleton, who says she survived a rape and an attempted rape during her first two years in Charlottesville. “She has been a beacon of hope and a strong support system for many of us who have endured sexual violence on campus.”
In her first public remarks about the Rolling Stone account since it was published online six months ago, Eramo on Wednesday assailed the magazine for its “false and grossly misleading” portrayal of her efforts to help students in need.
“Using me as the personification of a heartless administration, the Rolling Stone article attacked my life’s work,” Eramo wrote in a letter to Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, which The Washington Post obtained Wednesday morning. Eramo wrote that her name will now “remain forever linked to an article that has damaged my reputation and falsely portrayed the work to which I have dedicated my life.”
Rolling Stone spokeswoman Kathryn Brenner said Wednesday that “we sincerely regret any pain we caused Dean Nicole Eramo and others affected by this story.”
The Post reported in December that there were numerous discrepancies in the magazine’s account of an alleged gang rape at the campus Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, and police later confirmed that they could not substantiate the major claims in the story.
Earlier this month, a report from the Columbia University journalism school concluded that the magazine account by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, titled “A Rape on Campus,” was deeply flawed. In response to the Columbia report, Rolling Stone apologized, retracted the story and posted the Columbia report in its place.
Eramo has retained legal counsel with the firm Clare Locke, a boutique practice based in Alexandria that specializes in defamation cases. U-Va. officials declined to comment on Eramo’s letter Wednesday.
In the letter, Eramo describes receiving death and rape threats after the Rolling Stone article caused a sensation on campus and across the country. The story detailed the administration’s alleged inaction to a student’s claims that she was viciously assaulted in 2012 at a fraternity house by seven men while two others watched. The article alleged that U-Va. officials did nothing to warn the campus after learning of the assault.
A months-long Charlottesville police investigation into the allegations by the U-Va. junior at the center of the story, identified by the magazine only as Jackie, found that detectives were “not able to conclude to any substantive degree that an incident occurred at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house or any other fraternity house for that matter.”
In interviews with The Post last year, Jackie said she stood by the Rolling Stone account. Her attorney, Palma Pustilnik, declined to comment Wednesday.
Eramo also writes in her letter that Erdely and Rolling Stone failed to capture the administration’s work to prevent sexual assaults on campus and instead chose to publish a sensational story that fit a predetermined theme.
“Ms. Erdely squandered an opportunity to have a more nuanced and accurate conversation about this issue because she was busy filling in her preconceived narrative and ultimately setting back the cause of advocacy and support in ways that we are still only beginning to understand here in Charlottesville and across the country,” Eramo wrote. “Inflamed by the false portrayal in the article, protestors showed up at my office, demanding I be fired. Perhaps most egregious and shocking were the e-mails that I received expressing hope that I be killed or raped, and commenting that they hoped that I had a daughter so that she could be raped.”
Eramo wrote that the article described a lackluster university response to Jackie’s claims. But Charlottesville police showed that Eramo moved swiftly to arrange for Jackie to speak to police detectives about her rape allegations. Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy J. Longo told reporters in March that Jackie has refused to cooperate with investigators, both before and after the Rolling Stone article was published.
Lambasting the magazine’s journalism practices, Eramo wrote that “Jackie’s story of being victimized by a brutal gang rape at the hands of a UVA fraternity was simply too enticing not to publish — and UVA, its administration, and its students were too easily painted as callous villains for Rolling Stone to be burdened by the facts.”
In February, Eramo met with attorneys representing Rolling Stone to discuss the allegations in the article. But Eramo wrote that she walked away from that meeting deeply disappointed.
“Adding insult to injury, your attorneys said that the article’s portrayal of me — which cast me as an unsympathetic and manipulative false friend to sexual assault victims who is more interested in keeping assault statistics down than providing meaningful guidance to victims or holding perpetrators of sexual assault accountable — was ‘fair,’ ” Eramo wrote. “The University of Virginia — and those of us who work for the University supporting victims of sexual assault — deserve better.”
Read more Post coverage of the U-Va. rape allegations and their aftermath: