UVA, Rolling Stone, and the Long-Lasting Implications of Rape Allegations

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UVA, Rolling Stone, and the Long-Lasting Implications of Rape Allegations

Before the controversial Rolling Stone article, the University of Virginia was most known for its rigorous academics. But now it might best be known for the controversial swirl of rape allegations that surrounded the campus and the nation.

Implications of Rape Allegations

Last November Rolling Stone magazine published the feature “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault And Struggle for Justice at UVA.” While the story sought it expose the underbelly of rape culture amongst the UVA fraternity Phi Kappa Psi, it actually created an even larger story about how rape and rape allegations are treated across the nation.

Shortly after the article’s publication it hit 2.7 million page views. And with those page views came a number of questions about the story’s credibility.

Rolling Stone and “Jackie”

The 9,000-word feature written by contributor Sabrina Rubin Erdely, documented an experience faced by an undergraduate named “Jackie.” In the article, Jackie described an alleged 2012 rape attack by members of the fraternity Phi Kappa Psi as well as the aftermath of the attack. In it, UVA administrators and Jackie’s friends are portrayed as cold and uncaring, and also unwilling to accept Jackie’s claims.

According to the article, when finally reporting the rape to Dean Nicole Eramo, head of UVA’s Sexual Misconduct Board, Jackie was given three options: file a criminal complaint with the police, file a complaint with the school, or face her alleged attackers with Eramo present.

According to UVA law professor Anne Coughlin, on reading the article, and seeing how friends and administrators allegedly responded to the allegations said, “That is not the UVA I know.”

Shortly after its release, Richard Bradley, a former George magazine editor, wrote an essay that questioned the validity story. In it he wrote that a journalist should be “critical, in the best sense of that word,” about stories that just confirm your own already adopted biases. He noted that “something about this story doesn’t feel right,” citing the fact that it relied entirely on one unnamed source. In the article, friends who Jackie reached out to were not interviewed, and, Erdely, whose job it is to handle rape allegations made on campus, apparently made no effort to contact the frat members that were accused of rape.

Additional people weighed in on if the story could be trusted. Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia School of Journalism and a Pulitzer-winning reporter, and his associates, launched an investigation of their own that unearthed the article’s errors and ethical breaches. At the end of their study they concluded the Rolling Stone article was untruthful as a result of journalistic failures committed by “the reporter, the editor, the editor’s supervisor, and the fact-checking department.”

The Charlottesville Police Department also later confirmed there had been no gang rape at the fraternity.

While the article might have failed when it came to journalistic standards, it was successful in opening up a nationwide conversation on how rape allegations can be damaging in unexpected ways.

False Rape Allegations

NPR did a study in September of this year of over 150,000 at more than 24 colleges and found “on average, 23 percent of undergraduate women say they were, in some way, sexually assaulted during their time on campus.”

This is a significant problem. No one will dispute that rape is a terrible thing, but what the Rolling Stone article did was shed light on just how terrible it can be to be falsely accused of rape.

False allegations are one of the most damaging aspects facing of all cases of sexual assault. It can be argued that while there seem to be a number of tools in place to help victims of rape, there are less tools available to those that have been falsely accused of rape. But how often are false accusations made?

During a 10-year study that took place at a major Northeastern university of 136 reported sexual assault cases, eight (5.9%) were found to be false accusations. While the percentage may seem small, it’s doubtful that those falsely accused felt this was insignificant.

It’s for certain that the members of Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity accused in the Rolling Stone article would argue that false rape allegations can have wide and long-lasting effects.

Phi Kappa Psi Deals with Rape Allegations Fallout

Phi Kappa Psi has always maintained that the rape did not happen. Following the initial publication of the article, the fraternity suspended the activities of its UVA chapter. The national chapter also announced they would fully cooperate in the police investigation and also launch their own internal investigation into the allegations.

This November, Phi Kappa Psi filed a $25 million lawsuit against Rolling Stone.

“The fraternity chapter and its student and alumni members suffered extreme damage to their reputations in the aftermath of the article’s publication and continue to suffer despite the ultimate unraveling of the story,” the UVA Phi Psi chapter said in a statement following the announcement of the charges against Rolling Stone. “The article also subjected the student members and their families to danger and immense stress while jeopardizing the future existence of the chapter.”

“In the most scurrilous traditions of yellow tabloid journalism, Rolling Stone published a devastating story it knowingly failed to verify, in reckless disregard for truth or falsity, or the essential safety, dignity, and welfare of the organization or of those lives it was willing to crush with its defamatory article,” the fraternity wrote in the lawsuit. “The story was simply too tempting, too sensational, to let facts get in the way.”

The lawsuit was filed in defense of 54 undergraduate members of the Phi Kappa Psi who describe what it was like to live on campus during the aftermath of the article’s publication.

Those members describe facing various threats not only online, but also on campus, in classrooms and in student common areas. The UVA Phi Psi house was vandalized – broken windows and even a graffiti scribbled message of “UVA Center for Rape Studies.” According to one Phi Psi member, during recruitment, which was greatly damaged as a result of the allegations, prospective members had “no intention of pledging, but who rather were attending rush out of a curiosity to walk into the ‘rape house.’?”

Members on campus weren’t the only ones affected. Alums removed their affiliation with the fraternity from résumés out of concern that how Phi Psi membership might hurt potential job opportunities.

According to the lawsuit: “This defamation action is brought to seek redress for the wanton destruction caused to Phi Kappa Psi by Rolling Stone’s intentional, reckless, and unethical behavior.”

Working with an Attorney to Address False Rape Accusations

Sexual assault crimes are taken very seriously by the law. If you have been falsely accused you might assume that the charges will just be dropped because of how ludicrous they are to you. But take this case for example – and the wide-reaching effects that it had on just members of the fraternity associated with the rape allegations.

These types of allegations do not just “go away,” and you will need to be prepared if you are falsely accused. Here are some things you can do:

  • Do not speak with police or investigators until you have contacted a criminal defense attorney. They might try different tactics to get you to admit to a crime you did not commit. Remember that they are always trying to build a case. Simply state that you will not speak with them unless there is an attorney present.
  • Get in touch with a qualified and experienced criminal defense attorney. You’ll want to do this as soon as possible, even if you just expect the charges to be dismissed.
  • Prepare for what the allegations might bring. You will be asked to defend yourself, so you’ll need to be prepared. This means contacting witnesses that can testify or provide an alibi for you. You might also need to take psychological tests, or be asked to provide other evidence.Write down as many details as possible about what you remember.
  • Study. A criminal defense attorney will be able to guide you through fighting the allegations, but it’s in your best interest to understand the legal process and know your rights.

You will want to follow all the legal rules and precautions you can, and the best way you can protect yourself is by working with an experienced defense attorney such as Sevens Legal, APC.

Working with Sevens Legal, APC

After you have discussed the specifics of your case, your Sevens Legal, APC, will let you know your case’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as any possible risks associated with punishment and convictions you may face. Your Sevens Legal, APC, defense attorney can help negotiate a plea deal or whether the best course of action is to move forward to trial, while working constantly for your best interests.

Sevens Legal, APC, criminal defense lawyers put our experience to work for you. Every defendant deserves a zealous defense. To schedule your free consultation with one of our Sevens Legal, APC, criminal defense lawyers, call (619) 430-2355. Contact Sevens Legal, APC, today for a free consultation.

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