The Awful Decision In This 'Rolling Stone' Case

The now-infamous Rolling Stone article "A Rape On Campus" detailed a heinous gang rape at the University of Virginia, but was redacted after it was revealed that the allegations weren't backed up by anyone other than the alleged victim, who was given the pseudonym "Jackie." On Tuesday, a Virginia judge ruled that Jackie must give a deposition Thursday in a defamation lawsuit brought against the magazine, its parent company, and the article's author. As the subject of the story, she can help clear up what really happened, but Jackie shouldn't be forced to testify in the Rolling Stone court case, because an alleged victim shouldn't have to suffer for the mistakes a publication made in telling her story.

Associate Dean of Students Nicole P. Eramo is seeking $8 million in damages in response to the 2014 article that claimed the UVA administrator didn't support Jackie when she came to the dean about her alleged rape. Eramo's lawyer, Libby Locke, said in a statement Tuesday that Rolling Stone "was dead set on portraying Dean Eramo as a callous administrator who discouraged Jackie from reporting an assault to police — when, in fact, Dean Eramo took Jackie to the police, and it appears that Jackie knew that her tale of rape would not have stood up under real scrutiny and investigation." In court documents, Eramo alleges that Jackie is a "serial liar," and her lawyer says Jackie's testimony is "highly relevant" to the case.

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Chief Judge Glen Conrad's ruling will require Jackie to be questioned by the magazine's and Eramo's lawyers, though the transcripts of the conversations will remain confidential. Jackie's lawyers strongly objected to her testifying, arguing that it would "re-traumatize" her, and a psychologist treating her concluded that a deposition could cause severe psychological trauma.

Forcing Jackie to be involved in the lawsuit — against her own will and the recommendation of a medical professional — puts an alleged victim of defamation above an alleged victim of sexual assault. This isn't to say that Eramo's case isn't important, just that Jackie doesn't need to be forced to participate. Although Eramo believes Jackie fabricated the alleged assault, her real issue is with Rolling Stone and Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the writer, not Jackie. Journalists and the publications they write for, not their sources, are responsible for what they print.

A review by the Columbia School of Journalism found a multitude of mistakes in "A Rape On Campus" related to the fact that the story wasn't backed up by additional sources and Erdely waited until after it was published to try tracking down the men Jackie named as her alleged attackers. Jackie shouldn't be put in potentially traumatizing situations (in which lawyers will be able to grill her about her alleged sexual assault in an attempt to prove she's lying) because of the magazine's mistakes. The lawsuit is against Rolling Stone and Erdely, and it should remain that way. Yes, Jackie's account of what took place would help clarify details, but the case doesn't have superiority over her needs as an individual.

It would be a very different scenario if Jackie agreed to testify in a criminal case against her alleged attackers, but a sexual assault victim (even an alleged victim) should never be forced to relive their trauma and badgered about the details by attorneys against their will. In keeping her identity hidden, the UVA student obviously didn't want to go public with her alleged assault, so requiring her to talk to even more people about it seems cruel.

Unfortunately, we still live in a society that doesn't believe women who claim they've been assaulted. The scandal surrounding "A Rape On Campus" already had the ability to discourage other women from coming forward about being raped, and this latest development could do so further. Jackie shouldn't be assumed correct despite the holes in her telling of what happened, but she also shouldn't be treated as a criminal for trying to tell her story.