The University of Virginia has swiftly responded to a report that determined Rolling Stone magazine failed to use "basic, even routine journalistic practice" in a story about a vicious gang rape that allegedly took place at a fraternity party. Soon after the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism's findings were published Sunday evening, Rolling Stone officially retracted the Nov. 19 article that spurred months-long scrutiny from media outlets over its reporting and fact-checking. The University of Virginia's statement to the Rolling Stone UVA report condemned the magazine and said the story hurt sexual violence victims and did nothing to help them.
The article "A Rape on Campus," which is no longer available online, primarily relied on the perspective of Jackie, a pseudonym used for a UVA student, who told Rolling Stone reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely that she was raped by seven men at a Phi Kappa Psi fraternity party in September 2012. But within days of publication, the story began to unravel as other news outlets found serious gaps in Jackie's account as well as in Rolling Stone's reporting. The alleged crime was reportedly led by Jackie's date, identified in the story as Drew, but police, the fraternity, and subsequent media outlets have been unable to find a person who matched that description.
Rolling Stone and Erdely have since apologized for their roles in the shaky story. But given the media debacle surrounding the botched Rolling Stone story, the biggest victims in this situation are undoubtedly rape and sexual assault victims who might be less willing to report or share their story. Rolling Stone's efforts to give sexual violence victims a voice has instead given skeptics more ammunition to doubt their accounts.
UVA President Sullivan addressed that concern in her statement, saying Rolling Stone did nothing to fight sexual violence and, in fact, set back efforts in confronting the issue.
Rolling Stone’s story, ‘A Rape on Campus,’ did nothing to combat sexual violence, and it damaged serious efforts to address the issue. ... Such false depictions reinforce the reluctance sexual assault victims already feel about reporting their experience, lest they be doubted or ignored.
Sullivan also blamed the magazine for falsely accusing students who were reported to be involved in "heinous, criminal acts." She said the story portrayed university staff members as "manipulative and callous toward victims of sexual assault," which, in turn, has damaged the school's reputation. In recent years, college campuses have been criticized for their handling of sexual assault accusations and cases, and UVA became the epicenter of that battle following Rolling Stone's report. Sullivan said:
Long before Rolling Stone published its article, the University of Virginia was working to confront sexual violence. And we will continue to implement substantive reforms to improve culture, prevent violence, and respond to acts of violence when they occur.
Whether this case of poor reporting will affect future coverage of sexual assaults has yet to be seen. Sullivan's full statement reads:
Rolling Stone’s story, ‘A Rape on Campus,’ did nothing to combat sexual violence, and it damaged serious efforts to address the issue. Irresponsible journalism unjustly damaged the reputations of many innocent individuals and the University of Virginia. Rolling Stone falsely accused some University of Virginia students of heinous, criminal acts, and falsely depicted others as indifferent to the suffering of their classmate. The story portrayed University staff members as manipulative and callous toward victims of sexual assault. Such false depictions reinforce the reluctance sexual assault victims already feel about reporting their experience, lest they be doubted or ignored.
The Charlottesville Police Department investigation confirms that far from being callous, our staff members are diligent and devoted in supporting and caring for students. I offer our community’s genuine gratitude for their devotion and perseverance in their service.
Sexual violence is a serious issue for our society, and it requires the focus and attention of all in our communities. Long before Rolling Stone published its article, the University of Virginia was working to confront sexual violence. And we will continue to implement substantive reforms to improve culture, prevent violence, and respond to acts of violence when they occur. Our highest priority is to ensure the safety of our students so they can learn and achieve their personal potential in an environment of trust and security. We will continue to work tirelessly in pursuit of that goal.
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