Rape Story Falls Apart

Rape Story Falls Apart

By Jack Kelly - December 14, 2014

Seven men raped her for three hours during a pledge party at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at the University of Virginia on the night of Sept. 28, 2012, “Jackie” told writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely.

Jackie, then an 18-year-old freshman, was brought to the party by “Drew,” whom she’d met at the university pool, where both worked as lifeguards. Drew took her upstairs to a “pitch black” bedroom. She was pushed over backward onto a low glass table, which broke, “sharp shards digging into her back.”

The gang rape was a kind of initiation, talk among her assailants indicated. Jackie passed out. When she awoke hours later, she was alone in the room. No one noticed her leave the frat house.

Jackie told three friends about her ordeal. They talked her out of going to the hospital for fear they’d be blackballed from fraternity parties, she said.

Neither Ms. Erdely nor Rolling Stone, where the article was published, bothered to check Jackie’s story, because “women don’t lie about rape.”

Except when they do. There were “discrepancies,” Rolling Stone editors admitted after The Washington Post did the due diligence they hadn’t.

Phi Kappa Psi rushes in the spring, not the fall. It did not host “a date function or social event” during the weekend of Sept. 28, 2012, the fraternity said. No members of Phi Kappa Psi worked at the Aquatic and Fitness Center that month. When Jackie first told her story, there were only five rapists.

The Washington Post tracked down “Drew,” who was not a member of Phi Kappa Psi. He never took Jackie on a date, Drew said.

Though Jackie had no apparent injuries, they offered to take her to the hospital or to the police, but Jackie wanted to go back to her dorm, her friends “Andy” and “Cindy” told the Post.

Claire Kaplan, program director of Gender Violence and Social Change, said in a Facebook post that the students involved told her “the scene about whether or not to go to the hospital never happened, and that when they wanted to take her to the police, she didn’t want to go.”

Ms. Erdely has responded by saying that it doesn’t matter so much whether Jackie’s story is really true. The point of her article is the University of Virginia didn’t respond forcefully enough to her charges.

But if her story was false, UVA’s response was appropriate.

An appropriate punishment for the gang rape Ms. Erdely described would be life without parole — if it had occurred. The more serious the offense, the more despicable it is falsely to accuse someone of committing it.

Ms. Erdely was determined to write a story about sexual assault at a major university. She shopped around for six weeks before she found the “right” one, she told Slate magazine. Phi Kappa Psi, she said, is “really emblematic … of elitist fraternity culture.”

Maybe so. But there is no evidence Jackie was raped at the Phi Kappa Psi house.

To print so sensational a charge without attempting to verify it is an unforgivable breach of journalism ethics.

This isn’t the first time Ms. Erdely has played fast and loose with the facts to advance a narrative. She wrote a story in 2011 accusing three Catholic priests of homosexual rape, based on what she was told by a “victim” who was lying.

“Anyone who touched this story — save newsstand personnel — should lose their job,” said Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple.

No one should print anything Sabrina Erdely writes ever again.

Phi Kappa Psi should sue Ms. Erdely and Rolling Stone for libel.

After Rolling Stone published the story Nov. 19, University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan suspended all fraternity social activities. It is customary to investigate charges of wrongdoing before issuing punishment.

Jackie’s story has fallen apart, but Ms. Sullivan hasn’t apologized for her rush to judgment. She has a duty to treat all UVA students fairly — even the frat boys. If she had any integrity, she’d resign. Evidently she doesn’t, so the regents should fire her. 

Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio.

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