About That Rolling Stone Article

A recent Rolling Stone story about a reported gang rape of a student at the University of Virginia named Jackie has some people asking whether campus sexual assault is a true epidemic (which it is), but the real question is whether UVA itself is behind the story.

It’s strange to imagine a university wanting any bad press, but in a “wag the dog” world, a seemingly shocking story that then blows up is excellent public relations compared to the horrific truth.

Suspicions about UVA’s involvement developed when columnists, rather than the unnamed male attackers, started complaining about the credibility of Jackie’s story, leading some to question whether there even was a “Jackie” who reported any rape at UVA.

Things got even weirder when it came out that the writer who penned the piece, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, focused on a story that she knew or should have known had problems, and that she recklessly failed to subject it to appropriate journalistic standards.

The focus then shifted to a UVA employee named Emily Renda because, according to the Washington Post, she is the one who gave the “Jackie” story to Rolling Stone. Renda appeared on MSNBC with me right after the story broke, without revealing that she was an employee of UVA and without mentioning that she was the one who delivered the story to the magazine.

Rolling Stone didn’t mention Renda’s role in getting them the “Jackie” story, nor did they mention that UVA is currently under federal investigation by the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services—a case I filed charging multiple serious Title IX violations—and that UVA is implicated in a landmark federal lawsuit—also a case I filed relating to one of its most shocking cases. The facts were readily available to Rolling Stone because they exist in publicly available court documents.

The federal lawsuit I filed involves disturbing allegations about a UVA forensic nurse who took numerous photographs of my client’s genital injuries after she reported being sexually assaulted. The nurse initially prepared a medical record describing the injuries, but then submitted a report to the hearing board stating that there were no sexual assault injuries. The board ruled in favor of the alleged perpetrator, despite finding the victim “compelling” and “credible,” and noted in support of its decision that there were “no injuries.” The nurse’s inconsistent reports are on file with the court and with federal investigative agencies.

When my client and her family learned the nurse had testified that there were no injuries, they asked UVA for copies of the photographs which were taken during the SANE exam. University officials responded, without explanation, that there were “no photographs.”

UVA has been in trouble with federal agencies many times over the years for subjecting violence against women to substandard policies on campus, and the last perpetrator was expelled from UVA sixty years ago.

This recycling of rapists on campus was recently defended by UVA Dean Nicole Eramo, who coldly explained that perpetrators who confess are rewarded with the ability to remain students at UVA. She also said that offenders who don’t confess receive the same “gift,” though she nowhere explained why the alleged perpetrator in the missing photographs case won his case despite the hearing board’s determination that the victim, not the perpetrator, was “compelling” and “credible.”

It’s not clear whether Erdely or Rolling Stone magazine deserves the most criticism for allowing the “Jackie” story to be propped up, and it’s hard to believe a reputable journalist would intentionally sabotage her own career.

But Erdely hasn’t explained her actions, or complained that she was thrown under the bus by a higher-up at Rolling Stones. Hence, reasonable people wonder whether she wasn’t thrown so much as willingly flung herself.

People aren’t stupid, especially the parents of potential UVA students.

The good news is, Rolling Stone’s “Jackie’s” story is so over-the-top, it screams red herring (OK, neon whale) and has many folks shining an even brighter light on UVA to see who or what’s behind the PR curtain. Yet another reason to send our daughters (and sons) to college someplace else.

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Wendy Murphy
Wendy is an adjunct professor at New England Law|Boston where she has taught a seminar on sexual violence for more than ten years. She developed and directs two projects in conjunction with the school’s Center for Law and Social Responsibility. The “Sexual Violence Legal News” project is an alert service that distributes appellate cases of interest, with editorial comment, related to interpersonal violence. The “Judicial Language Project” uses socio-linguistic research to critique the language used in law and society to describe violence against women and children. She was a Visiting Scholar at Harvard Law School from 2002-2003 where her work focused on the status of women in their capacity as victims in the criminal justice system. Wendy previously taught “Reproductive Rights and Technologies” at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and in 2002 served as the Mary Joe Frug Visiting Assistant Professor of Law at New England Law|Boston where she has also taught courses in reproductive technologies and constitutional criminal procedure. She is a trial and appellate attorney specializing in the representation of crime victims, women, children and victim service providers and is the founder and director of the Victim Advocacy & Research Group, a volunteer legal advocacy organization that has provided free legal services to victims and other third-parties in the criminal justice system since 1992. Wendy wrote the first-ever law review article connecting sexual assault to Title IX in 2006 and filed the first-ever OCR policy complaint against a university in 2002.


  • peaceandcrackers April 7, 2015 (12:13 pm)

    I daresay Erdely threw herself under the bus as a deal agreement to keep her job? Maybe? It’s very odd that UVA now claims the perpetrators never existed, the fraternity never had an event that night, no roster can confirm any names, the witnesses are suddenly poof-vanished, and they would all just rather Jackie didn’t exist. There can be no victims. Ugh.

  • Beverly Prather June 4, 2015 (12:31 am)

    Dean Eramo said perps that confess are allowed to remain in school?
    If that statement is true, She has her nerve wanting 7.8 million dollars from Rolling Stone.

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