Rolling Stone magazine on Friday apologized for "discrepancies" in its bombshell story that said a female student at the University of Virginia was gang-raped at a fraternity — prompting the school to suspend all Greek activity last month. The account given by the student, identified only as Jackie, allegedly took place at a Phi Kappa Psi party in September 2012, when she was 18. The magazine had not interviewed any of the seven suspects for the report.
In a major inconsistency, The Washington Post found, no current members of the fraternity or pledges at the time match the descriptions detailed of the alleged ringleader named "Drew" in the Rolling Stone account.
"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," wrote managing editor Will Dana in a note to readers. "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."
In the wake of the report, students held protests over sexual assaults, and UVA suspended all 31 fraternities and 16 sororities on campus. Officials last month apologized to Jackie and other victims of rape, and said they were creating guidelines for protecting women and curtailing underage drinking.
UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan said that although the story has been called into question, the focus on the issue of sexual assault on college campuses sparked by the article must "remain our top priority." A police investigation into Jackie's specific allegations and UVA’s sexual assault policies won’t be abandoned, according to Virginia’s attorney general, Mark Herring.
Dana said that the writer of the article didn't contact the suspects at Jackie's request because she feared retaliation. "In the months (writer Sabrina Rubin 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," he wrote.
Dana said on Twitter later Friday that the “failure” fell on Rolling Stone, not Jackie. He said the writer and editors should have either not worked with Jackie or “worked harder to convince her that the truth would have been better served by getting the other side of the story.”
In a response to the Rolling Stone statement, the Phi Kappa Psi chapter responded Friday that it has been cooperating with Charlottesville police, but had "initial doubts as to the accuracy of the article." In its own investigation, the chapter said, it found that none of its members in 2012 were working at the university's Aquatic and Fitness Center — a detail given by Jackie.
The chapter also said it had no events scheduled the weekend of the September pledge party that Jackie said she attended. All pledging events take place in the spring and not in the fall, the fraternity said.
"Moreover, no ritualized sexual assault is part of our pledging or initiation process," Phi Kappa Psi added. "This notion is vile, and we vehemently refute this claim."
Attorney Palma Pustilnik with the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society told NBC affiliate WVIR that she is representing Jackie, but she would not comment further.
Capt. Gary Pleasants, of the Charlottesville Police Department, said its investigation will continue: "These articles do not change our focus moving forward."
UVA students said that even if the article wasn’t 100 percent accurate, it started an important conversation among students and school officials about sexual assault on their campus and others across the country. Junior Andrew Burrill said Rolling Stone’s statement on Friday doesn’t “take away from a lot of the issues that are currently taking place on (school) grounds with sexual misconduct and assault.” Sophomore Amalia Harte said that whatever problems there may be with the article, “it’s been fantastic that this kind of problem of sexual assault has come to light at the university.”
“We will continue to take a hard look at our practices, policies and procedures, and continue to dedicate ourselves to becoming a model institution in our educational programming, in the character of our student culture, and in our care for those who are victims,” said UVA President Sullivan.
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