UVA Dean Says Rolling Stone Defamed Her

     CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CN) – Rolling Stone and writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely defamed a University of Virginia dean by depicting her in the magazine’s now-retracted “A Rape on Campus” story as indifferent to allegations of sexual assault, the educator claims in court.
     Nicole Eramo seeks more than $7.5 million in damages in a lawsuit filed in the Charlottesville, Va. Circuit Court on May 12.
The magazine retracted the article after several news organizations and the Columbia University journalism school identified numerous serious flaws in it.
     Erdely’s piece purportedly lifted the veil on alleged incidents of sexual assault on the University of Virginia campus, centering on the experiences of an 18-year-old freshman identified as “Jackie.”
     According to the article, Jackie was punched in the face, pushed through a glass table, raped and violated with beer bottles in a three hour assault by seven Phi Kappa Psi pledges at a frat party on campus.
     Afterwards, Erdely wrote, Jackie turned to Eramo, the head of the university’s sexual misconduct board, to report the incident and have her alleged attackers held accountable. But instead of justice, the piece said , Jackie was “Brushed off” by the administrator, who allegedly told her “nobody wants to send their daughter to the rape school.”
     For a time, the article was a sensation. But then attention turned to scrutiny, and critics began to identify deep-seated problems in how the story was reported and edited.
     Eramo says in her complaint that Rolling Stone turned a deaf ear to the growing criticism, and continued to chastise her for mishandling the rape allegation until Dec. 5, 2014, when it was “forced” to retract Erdely’s article.
     A subsequent Columbia Journalism School analysis noted that none of the accused rapists was interviewed for the article, nor were any of the friends who Jackie claimed had turned their backs on her out of loyalty to their own fraternities.
     Columbia concluded the story was a “journalistic failure that was avoidable. The failure encompassed reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking.”
     Eramo says, “Erdley and Rolling Stone claimed to have interviewed sources they did not interview, claimed to have verified Jackie’s claims then they did no such thing, and claimed to know who Jackie’s alleged perpetrators were when in fact they had no idea whether they even existed.”
     Eramo says the story Jackie told her differed greatly from what was published in Rolling Stone, and that she did try and help the student seek justice against her attackers, “by going to the police, by pursuing misconduct proceedings within the University, or by both.”
     She also claims the investigation went nowhere because Jackie ultimately declined to cooperate.
     The dean also claims that Rolling Stone bought a photo of her from a campus newspaper, and then altered it to show her sneering and wild-eyed, giving a thumbs up while a student cries at her desk and protestors stand outside her office window holding signs with the slogans “Stop victim blaming” and “She’s broken (He’s OK).”
     Eramo was barred from counseling students during a university investigation into Rolling Stone’s claims, and students counseled by Eramo “were also harmed by having to ‘start over’ with a different counselor,” the complaint says.
     Eramo accuses both the writer and the magazine of valuing a lucrative story over journalistic integrity.
     To bolster her claim, Eramo points to two others allegedly falsified rape narratives written by Erdely and published in Rolling Stone: One detailing the sexual abuse of an altar boy by members of the Catholic church; the other, an account of a Navy officer who the reporter said was drugged and date raped.
     According to Eramo, Rolling Stone “was therefore aware of Erdely’s penchant for placing wholesale trust in unreliable sources and for purposefully avoiding the facts that do not support her preconceived narrative regarding the particular institution that is failing to protect individuals from rape.”
     Since the article has been published, Eramo claims, she has received hate mail “attacking her as, among other things, ‘evil,’ a ‘wretched rape apologist,’ and a ‘disgusting, worthless piece of trash.'”
     Furthermore, Eramo, who is currently battling breast cancer, says she has suffered unnecessary stress from the negative publicity, which affected her treatment and wreaked havoc on her body.
     “As a woman who has dedicated her life to assisting victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse, Dean Eramo saw herself tarred in the national press as the chief architect of a conspiracy to suppress Jackie’s assault in order to protect UVA’s reputation,” Eramo wrote in her complaint.
     In addition to the $7.5 million in compensatory damages, Eramo seeks $350,000 in punitive damages and court costs.
     She is represented by Thomas Clare, Elizabeth Locke, and Joseph Oliveri of Clare Locke in Alexandria, Va.
     Rolling Stone has not responded to Courthouse News’ request for statement and Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s contact information is no longer available on her website.

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