Lawyers representing a University of Virginia associate dean in a defamation suit against Rolling Stone magazine say a sensational account of a fraternity gang rape at the school was based on a series of lies told by the story’s main subject, according to new court documents.
The Alexandria-based law firm representing U-Va. administrator Nicole Eramo has filed motions seeking communications between Rolling Stone and “Jackie,” a U-Va. student whose haunting tale as the alleged victim of a vicious gang-rape at a fraternity house stunned the nation and invigorated a widespread discussion on college sexual assault. But in new filings submitted in federal court, Eramo’s lawyers claim that Jackie is “a serial liar who invented” her account of being raped by seven fraternity brothers participating in a hazing ritual that had left her bloodied and emotionally scarred.
“Jackie was the primary source for Rolling Stone’s false and defamatory article that included her story about being the victim of a violent sexual assault,” said Libby Locke, one of Eramo’s attorneys. “But there is no evidence whatsoever that the story that Jackie told her friends, or the very different story she told Rolling Stone, actually transpired. Instead, it appears that Jackie fabricated her perpetrator and the details of the alleged assault.”
Rebecca Anzidei, a Washington lawyer who represents Jackie, declined to comment when reached by telephone Thursday. Two other lawyers who have worked on Jackie’s behalf did not respond to requests for comment. Jackie, who has previously spoken to The Washington Post and stood by her account, did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. The court documents redact Jackie’s last name, and The Post generally does not identify people who are purported victims of sex crimes.
“A Rape on Campus,” the 9,000-word Rolling Stone account written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, detailed Jackie’s alleged assault and reported that there was a culture of rape on Virginia’s flagship campus, including a willful blindness to it on the part of campus leadership. The account appeared in the December 2014 issue of the magazine, and it immediately caused outrage in Charlottesville, Va., and across the country.
The Phi Kappa Psi house, which Jackie told Rolling Stone was where she had been attacked on Sept. 28, 2012, became the stage for protests and a canvas for vandals, who scrawled hate-filled graffiti on its brick facade and smashed windows, forcing members of the fraternity to scatter in hiding. Jackie, who had been an activist involved with sexual assault prevention at U-Va., became a cause celebre for countless rape survivors who rallied around her. The article also drew backlash for U-Va. and Eramo, who was portrayed as a symbol of the administration’s tepid response to Jackie’s allegations.
But the story quickly attracted scrutiny, and a series of Post stories revealed that there was no party at the fraternity on the night of the alleged attack nor anyone matching the name or description of the alleged ringleader of the attack at U-Va. A Charlottesville police investigation into Jackie’s claims later concluded that the assault described in Rolling Stone did not occur, and a Columbia University journalism school study commissioned by Rolling Stone found that the magazine committed grievous errors in its reporting. After apologizing for inconsistencies in the account, Rolling Stone officially retracted the story in April.
Many sexual assault advocates have suggested the possibility that Jackie’s account — which she also shared with The Post shortly after Rolling Stone’s story published — was an embellishment of a real sexual assault Jackie experienced. But Eramo’s lawyers argue that there is no evidence of any sexual assault in the case whatsoever, the boldest claim against the account yet.
“The story was a lie when she first told it in 2012, and it was no more true when Rolling Stone recklessly published the tale in 2014,” Eramo’s lawyers wrote in court documents. They also wrote that there is “no factual basis whatsoever” in evidence submitted so far in the case “to conclude that Jackie is even an ‘alleged’ victim of sexual assault, let alone an actual victim.”
In the year since its publication, the story has yielded at least three defamation lawsuits against Rolling Stone. Two lawsuits were filed by current members and alumni of the U-Va. chapter of the Phi Psi fraternity, claiming the house and individuals were irreparably harmed as a result.
A third, which Eramo filed in May, seeks more than $7.5 million in damages for what her lawyers describe as the magazine’s portrayal of the associate dean as callous and indifferent to Jackie’s sexual assault allegations. The most recent filings by Eramo’s legal team request communications between Jackie and Rolling Stone, as well as the student’s correspondence with U-Va. staff.
In the document, Eramo’s lawyers argue that Jackie’s “fabricated tale of sexual assault, her interactions with Dean Eramo, her statements to Rolling Stone, and her credibility (or lack thereof) as a primary source for Rolling Stone’s article and false claims about Dean Eramo are the key issues in the defamation case, and Jackie’s documents and testimony are highly relevant not only to Dean Eramo’s claims, but to Rolling Stone’s defenses to those claims.”
In court filings, Jackie’s lawyers wrote that she should not have to produce any of the requested documents because of certain legal protections for sexual assault victims. Jackie’s lawyers wrote that asking her to provide the information “constitutes exactly the abusive re-victimization that these protections were designed to prevent.”
Relying on text messages between Jackie and one of her closest friends at the time, Eramo’s lawyers argue that Jackie not only fabricated the account of her alleged sexual assault but also created the false persona of her perpetrator, whom she repeatedly identified to her friend as Haven Monahan. Charlottesville police said that no one by that name ever attended U-Va., and extensive efforts to find the person were not successful.
Also, photographs that were texted to one of Jackie’s friends showing the alleged attacker were actually pictures depicting one of Jackie’s high school classmates in Northern Virginia. That man, now a student at a university in another state, confirmed to The Post that the photographs were of him and said he barely knew Jackie and hadn’t been to Charlottesville for many years.
“All available evidence suggests that ‘Haven Monahan’ was a figment of Jackie’s imagination,” Eramo’s lawyers wrote in court documents.
Ryan Duffin, who was a U-Va. freshman in 2012 when he came to Jackie’s aid that September night, said in an interview Thursday that he no longer finds much credence in Jackie’s account. She wrote in texts to him that “Haven” had stopped by to apologize to her after the attack and that the attacker had dropped out of school days later; Duffin contemporaneously questioned the account, according to the texts, after students could find no evidence there was ever such a person at U-Va.
“It makes the most logical sense to say that it was fabricated,” said Duffin, who provided hundreds of text messages for the case under subpoena. Duffin said that he read through the messages he sent to Jackie and received from “Haven Monahan” before handing the documents over.
“It was strangely emotional, but I think for all of the wrong reasons,” Duffin said. “For realizing that we probably got duped, and it’s not a good feeling to have.”