Dear Commons Community,
In November, Rolling Stone published an account of sexual assault that shook the University of Virginia and horrified readers. Yesterday Rolling Stone’s managing editor, Will Dana, published a letter apologizing for the way the story was handled and admitted to doubts about its report of a premeditated gang rape at a fraternity party. Rolling Stone’s backpedaling came after several days of critiques that questioned aspects of its article about a woman who asked to be called Jackie, and concessions by campus activists against sexual assault that they had doubts about some parts of her account. As reported in the New York Times,
“In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced.” In a statement, the fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi said it did not have a fraternity function on the weekend when the woman said she was raped upstairs in the fraternity house while a party raged downstairs. And while the article said the initiator of the assault was a fraternity member who worked as a lifeguard at a university pool, Phi Kappa Psi said its review indicated that no member of the fraternity worked there during the time in question.”
Below is the full text of Dana’s letter. Unfortunately, if it turns out that this story is indeed a fabrication, it will have done great harm to real victims of rape around the country.
TO OUR READERS:
Last month, Rolling Stone published a story titled “A Rape on Campus” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, which described a brutal gang rape of a woman named Jackie at a University of Virginia fraternity house; the university’s failure to respond to this alleged assault – and the school’s troubling history of indifference to many other instances of alleged sexual assaults. The story generated worldwide headlines and much soul-searching at UVA. University president Teresa Sullivan promised a full investigation and also to examine the way the school responds to sexual assault allegations.
Because of the sensitive nature of Jackie’s story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her. In the months Erdely spent reporting the story, Jackie neither said nor did anything that made Erdely, or Rolling Stone‘s editors and fact-checkers, question Jackie’s credibility. Her friends and rape activists on campus strongly supported Jackie’s account. She had spoken of the assault in campus forums. We reached out to both the local branch and the national leadership of the fraternity where Jackie said she was attacked. They responded that they couldn’t confirm or deny her story but had concerns about the evidence.
In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced. We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.
Will Dana Managing Editor