UVA Dean Suing Rolling Stone

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A dean at the University of Virginia has filed a lawsuit against Rolling Stone, accusing the magazine and reporter Sabrina Erdely of defaming her in the now-withdrawn article about an alleged gang rape at the college.

Nicole Eramo, who works as UVA’s associate dean of students, says the magazine grossly misrepresented her actions when she was approached by a UVA undergrad, “Jackie,” who claimed to have been raped at a fraternity party in September 2012. (RELATED: Will The Lawsuit Against Rolling Stone Succeed?)

“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’s lawsuit reads. Eramo is seeking over $7.5 million in compensatory damages, along with hundreds of thousands in punitive damages plus legal fees.

Last November, Rolling Stone published an article, “A Rape on Campus,” that graphically described a brutal gang rape suffered by a student at the school identified only as “Jackie.” While the gang rape allegations drew the biggest headlines, the article also focused extensively on the supposed callousness of UVA officials when Jackie came to them seeking help.

Eramo, UVA’s top official for handling sexual assaults, is portrayed as an administrator whose primary goal is protecting UVA’s reputation rather than assisting sexual assault victims. Eramo is accused of hindering the students seeking justice by directing them towards non-legal solutions to assault allegations, keeping information from the police, and, if necessary, simply lying to students in order to forestall an official investigation.

To add to the insult, Rolling Stone’s article included a photograph of Eramo doctored to give her a sinister appearance. In the original picture, Eramo is lecturing a group of students, but the altered photograph makes it appear that she is callously speaking to a student sobbing in her office:

The article initially provoked outrage both on-campus and nationwide (the lawsuit notes it received 2.7 million views online), but within a few weeks the tale of “Jackie” began to fall apart, with evidence suggesting Jackie had fabricated a rape in an apparent effort to win the affections of a boy she had a crush on. Rolling Stone was eventually compelled to retract the article.

An investigation of Rolling Stone’s practices conducted by the Columbia School of Journalism produced a devastating critique of the magazine’s editorial practices, while a separate investigation by Charlottesville police found absolutely no evidence that the student, Jackie, had been raped in the manner described in the article.

Eramo’s lawsuit draws upon the Columbia report to justify its claims of defamation, arguing that Rolling Stone was unsure of Jackie’s reliability, but published the story as fact anyway out of its desire to advance a particular narrative:

They had serious doubts about the truth of the disparaging claims they planned to make about Dean Eramo, but intentionally violated commonly accepted journalistic norms and consciouslfailed to investigate sources and information that they believed would have revealed the falsity of the charges they leveled. Erdely and Rolling Stone were intent on painting a narrative that depicted Dean Eramo as complicit in cover up of Jackie’s allegations andhaving made the decision to so accuse Dean Eramocelebrated their preconceived narrative by including an intentionally doctored illustration of Dean Eramo that depicts her as callous toward a sexual assault victim sitting and crying in her office.

The lawsuit also attacks Rolling Stone for allegedly waiting over two weeks to issue even a partial retraction of the article once it developed significant doubts about its accuracy.

“From November 26, 2014 until December 52014… Erdely and Rolling Stone continued to conduct a nationwide press tour in which they repeatedly and callously doubled down on their false claimthat Dean Eramo was indifferent to Jackie’s allegationsthat she did nothinin response to them,that she did not report them to the policeand that she instead sought to suppress Jackie’allegations and discourage her from reporting them,” the lawsuit says.
As a result of Rolling Stone’s false claims about her, Eramo says she received hundreds of abusive emails, had her responsibilities at work changed and had her reputation irreparably harmed.

The lawsuit likely won’t be the last one to hit Rolling Stone. The fraternity accused of planning the gang-rape of Jackie, Phi Kappa Psi, has also announced that it is planning a lawsuit against Rolling Stone. (RELATED: UVA Fraternity To Sue Rolling Stone Over False Rape Accusation)

Read the full complaint below:

Era Mo Rollingstone Complaint

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