In the explosive wake of a Rolling Stone article in November 2014, police in Charlottesville, Virginia, have announced that they are suspending the rape investigation discussed at length in the Rolling Stone article. The article was about a woman who claimed to have been gang raped at a fraternity party at the University of Virginia; however, investigators have uncovered contradictory information. In addition, Rolling Stone has been criticized for their handling of the rape investigation story.
Rape Investigation, Journalistic Sensationalism, or Both?
According to a Miami Herald Associated Press article, the alleged victim in the rape investigation, known only as “Jackie,” told Rolling Stone magazine that during her first semester at the University of Virginia in 2012, she went on a date with a classmate known only as “Drew” who later lured her into a secluded room at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house where she was raped by seven fraternity brothers.
Between the AP article and a Los Angeles Times report, there is a discrepancy as to when the university first heard of the rape. The AP article says the story first came to light in May of 2013 when Jackie was in a dean’s office on an unrelated academic matter. The Times stated that “Jackie” reported a separate incident of being attacked by four men on campus in April of 2014 to a dean and campus police. During this meeting, she supposedly also told them about the alleged rape in 2012. According to Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo, police found inconsistencies in Jackie’s account of the attack from the four men in 2014 but that she did have an abrasion on her head.
Regardless of when the story was first related to university officials, what seems to be consistent with both dates is that Jackie stated she didn’t want to push for a rape investigation regarding the 2012 fraternity rape incident. Even after the story broke in Rolling Stone in November and University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan asked law enforcement to look into the alleged assault, investigators were forced to proceed without cooperation from Jackie.
While they were working on the rape investigation, several other inconsistencies came forward which led Charlottesville police to announce that they were suspending (but not closing entirely) the investigation on Monday, March 23. Longo stated that campus deans, fraternities, employees, and even friends of Jackie provided documents and statements which didn’t support Jackie’s claims.
In the Rolling Stone article, entitled “A Rape on Campus,” Jackie said she told three friends about the assault and that two of them told her not to report the incident to the police. However, the friends told the Associated Press that the exact opposite was true. They said they had insisted that Jackie contact the police, but she had refused.
In addition, in the course of the rape investigation, it was discovered that contrary to Jackie’s statement, there was no party at the Phi Kappa Psi house the night of the alleged rape. The classmate Jackie referred to as “Drew” was contacted, but it was discovered that he was not only a member of a different fraternity but claimed to not even know Jackie.
“That doesn’t mean that something terrible did not happen to Jackie,” Longo said at a news conference on Monday. “I can’t prove that something didn’t happen.” He went on to say that while the investigation wasn’t officially closed, investigators were “not able to conclude to any substantive degree than an incident consistent with the facts in [the Rolling Stone] article” had occurred.
Damning to Future Rape Investigations?
After the publication of the article in Rolling Stone, several critics stepped forward to voice their concerns over not only questionable reporting but also damages that this story could cause to future rape investigations. One of the biggest issues from a journalistic standpoint was Rolling Stone’s decision to not contact the accused in the case for their side of the story.
Rolling Stone published a letter from Managing Editor Will Dana on Dec. 5 detailing some of the inconsistencies in Jackie’s story but saying that she still stood by it. Dana said that in light of some of this new information, they realized they were in error in not attempting to contact the allegedly guilty parties.
The story also had a negative impact on the University of Virginia, which was accused of having a rampant culture of sexual violence. University President Sullivan banned social activities at fraternities after the article was published. These activities were reinstated after the organizations agreed to much stricter rules and regulations of the social activities. In light of the new information, it has been reported that these new rules and regulations will be re-evaluated.
Many rape survivor advocates say the article and subsequent rape investigation has set the cause back considerably, given the fact that often women who claim rape are already not taken seriously by law enforcement and the general public.
According to a statement from Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity “is now exploring its legal options to address the extensive damage caused by Rolling Stone.”