Over the past couple weeks, the Washington Post has done a thorough job blowing battleship-sized holes in the searing Rolling Stone story about Jackie, the woman who says she was gang-raped at the University of Virginia two years ago and now finds herself at the center of one of the gnarliest journalistic shitstorms we've seen in quite some time. (Once again: I initially defended the story, and for that I was wrong.) In another Post piece yesterday, T. Rees Shapiro quotes three fellow students who say they met up with Jackie on the night she says the rape occurred. They challenged Jackie's account of the evening and said that RS reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely never reached out to them for comment.
One of Jackie's rescuers, "Andy," remembers that Jackie appeared to be in extreme distress and eventually told them she'd been forced to perform oral sex on five men (not raped by seven, as the RS story states). But he says that they didn't, as Erdely reported, debate the "social price" of Jackie reporting the assault. From Shapiro:
The friends remember being shocked. Although they did not notice any blood or visible injuries, they said they immediately urged Jackie to speak to police and insisted that they find her help. Instead, they said, Jackie declined and asked to be taken back to her dorm room. They went with her — two said they spent the night — seeking to comfort Jackie in what appeared to be a moment of extreme turmoil.
"I mean, obviously, we were very concerned for her," Andy said. "We tried to be as supportive as we could be."
There's also this: the name that Jackie provided as the fraternity member she'd been on a date with, referred to in the Rolling Stone story as "Drew," the person who supposedly led her into a house to be assaulted "did not match anyone at the university," Shapiro writes. "And U-Va. officials confirmed to The Post that no one by that name has attended the school." And this: "Also, photographs that were texted to one of the friends showing her date that night were actually pictures depicting one of Jackie's high school classmates in Northern Virginia. That man, now a junior at a university in another state, confirmed that the photographs were of him and said he barely knew Jackie and hasn't been to Charlottesville for at least six years."
"Randall," another of Jackie's friends who saw her that night, supposedly declined to be interviewed, according to Erdely, citing his loyalty to the fraternity. In fact, he told the Post, she never called him, but he would have been willing to talk. Details provided in the Post story suggest that he and Jackie's other friends from that night believe that she may have fabricated her date with "Drew" to make Randall jealous. (In previous interviews with the Post, Jackie has stood by her story; her father as well as her roommate from the time of the alleged incident have also said they believe she was sexually assaulted.)
The latest story is disturbing and sad, and if Erdely truly didn't contact "Randall" and made up a paraphrased quote for him, it means she is actively guilty of fabrication, which would be career-endingly bad.
But if we're almost done picking apart Jackie's story and her character — and surely we've nearly reached the end of that, after this piece — perhaps it's time now to consider the second half of Erdely's story. That's the part where Jackie and other UVA students say they reported being raped to administrators and were presented with several options for "formal" and "informal" hearings into their allegations. As associate Dean of Students Nicole Eramo said in an interview, the informal hearings virtually never led to expulsion, even when the accused student admitted to rape or sexual assault.
There's a reason UVA is still addressing issues of how they handle sexual assault allegations on campus, and it's not because it and other college campuses are, in the words of one blogger, "infected by the horribly destructive disease of political correctness." It's because there's a problem here, even if Jackie proves to be the wrong person to represent it. (This story also viscerally shows the difficulties and dangers of magazine features, where one character stands in for a broader issue.) UVA is still one of dozens of schools being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education for alleged mishandling of sexual assault complaints. There's a reason why criminal matters should be investigated by the police (not that the police always do such a hot job of it either). A catastrophic series of failures on the part of both UVA and Rolling Stone led to this mess, which should never have had a chance to end up being adjudicated in the media.
Erdely still hasn't commented publicly on the backlash against the story. Rolling Stone has said they're undertaking their own review of the story. We're in the process of further investigating how UVA handled the Rolling Stone article and its fallout internally.