CHARLOTTESVILLE — Many people in the University of Virginia community remain outraged about the Rolling Stone account of a gang rape at a campus fraternity house that unraveled into a journalistic debacle Friday.
But Tommy Reid, the president of U-Va.’s Inter-Fraternity Council, said Saturday that he had other concerns. Reid said he wants to keep attention locked onto efforts to reform the Greek system and the university as a whole to stop sexual violence.
“My biggest fear is that students and the rest of the community will struggle over the minutiae of the specific Rolling Stone article and discontinue the momentum toward addressing the issue of rape on college campuses,” said Reid, 21, a senior.
A chorus of student activists, politicians, faculty and administrators were mobilizing Friday and Saturday to sustain that momentum despite the emergence of doubts about key elements of the shocking narrative of an alleged gang rape of a freshman in 2012. As The Washington Post reported finding significant flaws in the story and the fraternity released a rebuttal of key facts contained in the allegations, Rolling Stone apologized Friday for discrepancies in the Nov. 19 article and said its trust in the student had been “misplaced.”
“Virginians are now left grasping for the truth, but we must not let that undermine our support for survivors of sexual assault or the momentum for solutions,” Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) said in a statement. “Months before the Rolling Stone article, the commonwealth, the nation, and the university itself had begun addressing sexual violence on campus as a crisis. Nothing should or will distract from that critical work.”
Herring has named an independent counsel to review sexual violence issues at the university raised by the Rolling Stone article. The lawyers include Walter Dellinger, a former acting U.S. solicitor general.
On Nov. 22, as furor grew over the allegations that seven fraternity men had raped a student and that the university’s response to such attacks was lackluster, U-Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan announced a suspension of Greek activities until the beginning of January. There was no sign Saturday that her decision will be revisited.
Reid said the suspension is not a concern for him.
“Practical implications of the ban are negligible,” he said. “We are heading into exams and will not return to school until after Jan. 9. The suspension itself is not something the IFC is particularly focused on.”
University spokesman McGregor McCance declined to say whether the suspension would be lifted.
“President Sullivan’s message to the university community remains our focus at this time,” he wrote in an e-mail Saturday. “Our foremost concern is the care and support of all students, and especially, any survivor of sexual assault. U-Va. will continue to focus on our practices, policies and procedures, and remains committed to taking action as necessary to bring about meaningful cultural change.”
Edward D. Miller, a member of the university’s governing Board of Visitors, said doubts raised about the Rolling Stone article did not change his view of what needs to be done.
“Right from the get-go, I have said we need an outside group to come in and find out what the real facts are,” Miller said Saturday. He said he was motivated by accounts of other victims of sexual assault that have emerged in recent days. Miller said he wants to know “what is the culture, what is really going on — and get to the heart of it.”
Ashley Brown, 23, a senior who heads a sexual violence prevention group called One Less, said U-Va. must remain resolved to address the problem. Brown said she and others met with Sullivan on Friday morning to discuss ideas about how to set reforms in motion. One proposal is to use written agreements between the university and social organizations, including fraternities.
“Change is on the horizon,” Brown said, “with or without the details of the story that are being contested.”
Brown also said she was appalled at Rolling Stone’s handling of the story, especially the student named Jackie who was at the heart of it. “The onus is on Rolling Stone to get the facts,” she said.
Doubts about the accuracy of the Rolling Stone account continued to mount Saturday. A second U-Va. student who was among a group of three friends who came to Jackie’s aid after her alleged sexual assault during the fall semester of 2012 told The Post that details in the story were flawed.
The Rolling Stone account said that Jackie summoned three friends to help her after she was brutally raped at the Phi Kappa Psi house on Sept. 28, 2012. The article said that Jackie was bleeding and was wearing a blood-spattered dress and that she met her friends in the shadow of the looming fraternity house. It also claims that Jackie’s friends persuaded her not to report the attack for fear of it harming their social lives, a critical part in the article.
“It was not anything like what happened that night,” said the friend, who is identified in the story as “Cindy” and spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the subject. “That night was not very significant. I remember it, but it was not very dramatic.”
She said the students met Jackie near the U-Va. dorms, more than a mile from the campus fraternities.
“Cindy” said that Jackie appeared distraught that night but was not hurt physically and was not bleeding. The student said Jackie made no claims of a gang rape and did not identify the fraternity where she said she had partied. “Cindy” said Jackie told one of the friends there that a group of men had forced her to perform oral sex.
The student said there was never any discussion among Jackie and the group involving how their reputations or social status might be affected by seeking help.
The student said that when she read the Rolling Stone account, she felt betrayed. “It’s completely false,” she said, noting that she was not contacted or interviewed by a Rolling Stone reporter.
Jackie, in several recent interviews with The Post, stood by her account that she was gang raped at Phi Kappa Psi after she attended a party there with a date. Her version of events during those interviews was substantially similar to the Rolling Stone account.
U-Va. was under scrutiny for its handling of sexual assault long before the Rolling Stone article. A federal investigation of U-Va.’s response to sexual violence, begun in June 2011, continues. It is one of the longest-running active probes of its kind in the nation. U-Va. is one of the most prominent of 90 colleges and universities facing such investigations by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
Sullivan laid out a detailed road map last week for a comprehensive review of campus culture, touching on sexual assault, alcohol, Greek life and university oversight.
“Now our university has been placed at the center of this crisis,” Sullivan said, speaking of rape. “We will not shrink from it. We will lead. I will make periodic reports to the community on what we are doing, and you can hold me accountable for our efforts.”
Federal statistics show the rising salience of the issue at U-Va. There were 27 reports of forcible sex offenses on the campus in 2013, up from 11 the year before. Experts say it is generally a positive sign when reports of sex offenses rise at a school. That indicates victims feel comfortable stepping forward and the issue is not being buried.
Anderson reported from Washington.