Lawyers representing a former University of Virginia student who claimed she was the victim of a gang rape in a discredited Rolling Stone story have asked a judge to cancel her scheduled deposition in a lawsuit against the magazine, arguing that she would be “re-traumatized” if she is compelled to recount her ordeal in proceedings under oath.
The former student — who in court papers is referred to only by her nickname, Jackie — became the central figure in a 2014 Rolling Stone article that described her account of a vicious sexual assault during her freshman year, an attack she said was carried out over several hours by seven men in a fraternity house bedroom. The 9,000-word exposé highlighted Jackie’s case as a devastating example of rape on a college campus and the struggles she faced while seeking help from members of the U-Va. administration, including the associate dean responsible for handling sexual assault allegations.
But reporting by The Washington Post, later confirmed by the Charlottesville Police Department and an investigation by the Columbia University journalism school, showed that the Rolling Stone article was factually inaccurate. The magazine eventually retracted the story and apologized to readers; the fraternity was cleared of all wrongdoing. In May, U-Va. associate dean Nicole Eramo filed a defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone, assailing the magazine’s “false” portrayal of her counsel to Jackie as callous and indifferent and arguing that Jackie’s story was a fabrication.
In newly filed court documents, attorneys for Jackie wrote that a deposition could cause “significant and undeniable psychological harm” and have “shattering and potentially irreparable consequences” to their client.
“Forcing her to revisit her sexual assault, and then the re-victimization that took place after the Rolling Stone article came out, will inevitably lead to a worsening of her symptoms and current mental health,” Jackie’s attorneys wrote, citing “extensive support in the medical literature” that shows “sexual assault victims will experience trauma if they are forced to revisit the details of their assault.”
But attorneys for Eramo contend in court documents that Jackie is a “serial liar” who concocted her tale of sexual assault in an unusual ploy to win the affection of a male U-Va. student she wanted to date.
“There is no evidence whatsoever that the story that Jackie told her friends, or the very different story she told Rolling Stone, actually transpired,” Eramo’s attorneys wrote. “Instead, it appears that Jackie fabricated her perpetrator and the details of the alleged assault.”
Eramo’s team wants Jackie to detail her interactions with Rolling Stone. In recent court filings, Jackie’s attorneys characterized any attempt by Eramo’s legal team to depose Jackie as a third party in the lawsuit as “persecution.”
“Instead, Dean Eramo continues her scorched earth attacks … in the misguided hope that her unwarranted attacks can distract from the fact that Dean Eramo has no valid claims,” wrote Jackie’s attorneys, who described Jackie as “a sexual assault victim who has suffered repeated revictimizations, including by Dean Eramo in this very lawsuit.”
Jackie’s attorneys argued in court filings that questions posed to their client could inappropriately veer into “deeply personal matters,” such as the intimate details of her sexual assault. They declined to comment on the court filings when reached by The Post.
The deposition is scheduled for April 5, and Jackie’s attorneys have requested that the location of the meeting remain secret and have asked the judge to ban anyone involved with the case to discuss or comment on whatever Jackie might say in the sworn statements. Jackie has never reported her allegations to police; authorities have said that U-Va. officials encouraged her to do so, at one point driving her to a police station.
“Jackie’s lawyers argue that questioning her supposed sexual assault would be invasive and violate her privacy rights. That contention is ridiculous,” said Libby Locke, a lawyer representing Eramo, noting that Jackie openly discussed her rape account with Rolling Stone and The Post. “The only thing different now is that Jackie’s deposition answers will be under oath and Jackie will be compelled to tell the truth. Unfortunately, that is something that Jackie and her lawyers have been trying to avoid all along.”
Attorneys for Rolling Stone and the journalist who wrote the article, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, wrote in court filings that they support deposing Jackie in the case, highlighting that her answers could reveal context necessary for both sides’ legal strategy at trial.
In a March 29 filing, Eramo’s attorneys wrote that 11 months ago they approached Jackie’s attorney with a proposal that would have eliminated the need for the student to participate in a deposition, but Eramo’s legal team wrote that the attorney declined.
Eramo’s attorneys also wrote that they offered Jackie the option “to streamline the questioning and allow for fair discovery, while also showing sensitivity to Jackie’s counsels’ claim that subjecting Jackie to questioning about the specific details of her supposed sexual assault would be traumatizing.” Eramo’s attorneys proposed that if Jackie admitted that she “was not in fact sexually assaulted at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity on September 28, 2012,” then the questioning on that matter could be shortened in the deposition. According to court documents, Jackie’s lawyers “flatly rejected” the offer.
In several interviews with The Post in late 2014, Jackie said that she stood by the account in Rolling Stone and offered a similar version. Jackie also acknowledged that she knew her allegations had little proof beyond her word.
“I didn’t want a trial,” Jackie said in 2014. “I can’t imagine getting up on a defense stand having them tear me apart.”