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U-Va. dean, speaking out for the first time, assails retracted Rolling Stone story

Speaking out for the first time in an open letter, University of Virginia associate dean of students Nicole Eramo publicly blasts Rolling Stone for what she calls "false and grossly misleading" statements regarding her involvement in rape allegations on campus. The Post's T. Rees Shapiro explains what's in the letter. (Video: Alice Li/The Washington Post)

University of Virginia associate dean of students Nicole Eramo on Wednesday publicly denounced a retracted Rolling Stone article that she says falsely portrayed her role in counseling a student who alleged that she was the victim of a fraternity gang-rape on campus.

In a letter to Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, obtained by The Washington Post on Wednesday morning, Eramo assails the article’s “false and grossly misleading” account about how U-Va. handled allegations of rape on campus. Eramo, who works with student survivors of sexual assault, had been characterized as callous and indifferent to what Rolling Stone described as a brutal campus rape, and other sexual assault cases.

“Using me as the personification of a heartless administration, the Rolling Stone article attacked my life’s work,” Eramo wrote in the letter, her first public remarks about the article since its online publication in November. Noting that the article has since been discredited and retracted, 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.”

A spokesperson for Rolling Stone did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday morning. Eramo wrote that she met with lawyer for Rolling Stone in February to discuss the magazine’s story.

[Rolling Stone retracts discredited U-Va. rape story.]

The Washington Post reported in December that there were numerous discrepancies in the magazine account, and police later confirmed that they could not substantiate major claims in the story. Earlier this month, a report by 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.

[U-Va. students challenge Rolling Stone account of alleged sexual assault.]

Read Eramo’s letter:

Eramo has retained legal counsel with the firm Clare Locke, a boutique practice based in Alexandria, Va., that specializes in defamation cases.

In her letter, Eramo describes receiving death and rape threats after the Rolling Stone article caused a sensation on campus and around 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 campus after learning of the assault.

A months-long investigation by the Charlottesville police 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.”

Eramo 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.

“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.”

[U-Va. associate dean defends policy allowing ‘informal’ resolution of sexual assault complaints.]

Eramo notes in her letter that the article described the administration as callous to Jackie’s claims. But the Charlottesville police investigation showed that Eramo moved swiftly after first meeting Jackie to arrange for her 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 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 lawyers representing Rolling Stone to discuss the allegations in the article. But Eramo writes that she walked away from the 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. “Rolling Stone has refused to hold anyone accountable, and the so-called apology came only after the Columbia Journalism Review issued its report criticizing the magazine’s reporting, which suggests that the magazine is more interested in currying favor with its friends in the media than truly making amends with those of us who have been hurt. These steps are not good enough. The University of Virginia — and those of us who work for the University supporting victims of sexual assault — deserve better.”