Three University of Virginia graduates who are members of the the fraternity falsely accused of staging a gang rape in a now-debunked Rolling Stone article are suing the publication and the disgraced author of the piece, Sabrina Rubin Erdely.
Phi Kappa Psi members George Elias IV, Stephen Hadford and Ross Fowler have filed suit in New York claiming that the false story, which appeared in the magazine’s Nov. 19 issue, “had a devastating effect” on their reputations, the Associated Press reports.
The three men were members of the fraternity in the fall 2012. That’s when a UVA student named Jackie told Erdely that she was gang-raped by seven Phi Kappa Psi members during a pledge ritual at a fraternity house party.
Jackie’s story was vivid, gruesome and a flat-out lie.
She told Erdely that she was taken to the second floor of the fraternity house by her date that night — a man she claimed was a junior at UVA and a member of the fraternity. Erdely reported that Jackie said she was punched and raped on a pile of glass.
The article was explosive. It led to nationwide outrage and forced UVA president Teresa Sullivan to suspend Phi Kappa Psi and all Greek life at the school during an investigation. The fraternity house was also vandalized and members of the organization went into hiding.
Elias IV, Hadford, and Fowler all suffered “vicious and hurtful attacks,” their suit asserts. The men are seeking at least $75,000 in damages from Erdely, Rolling Stone, and its parent company, Wenner Media.
Jackie’s tale and Erdely’s description directly implicated Elias IV, the suit claims. He lived in an upstairs room at the Phi Kappa Psi house at the time Jackie said she was attacked.
“Upon release of the article, family friends, acquaintances, co-workers and reporters easily matched (Elias) as one of the alleged attackers and, among other things, interrogated him, humiliated him, and scolded him,” the lawsuit says, according to the AP. Hadford and Fowler “suffered similar attacks.”
The lawsuit is not the first legal trouble for Rolling Stone following the article. UVA dean Nicole Eramo is suing the magazine for $7.5 million for defamation. Eramo was portrayed by Erdely as callous and neglectful of Jackie’s claim that she was raped. But in fact, Eramo tried to help Jackie to no avail. Charlottesville police said earlier this year that Eramo reported Jackie’s claims but that the student refused to give a statement.
Erdely’s article came under scrutiny about a week after it was published. As questions mounted, it was discovered that Erdely flouted all journalistic ethics by failing to investigate Jackie’s claims. For instance, Erdely never obtained the name of the man Jackie said she went on a date with before her rape. Erdely was also never told the names of any of her alleged attackers. Therefore, Erdely was never able to directly confront anyone about the attack. Instead, she emailed Phi Kappa Psi chapter leaders who correctly stated that they had never heard of such an incident at their house. Erdely portrayed their response as the type of denial guilty men would provide.
Erdely also never got into contact with three of Jackie’s friends featured in the article who she claimed met up with her shortly after her attack. Those friends were portrayed as uncaring and only concerned about how a rape claim would affect their ability to attend campus parties.
But those three friends came forward after the article was published to dispute Jackie’s claims. The friends said that Jackie claimed at the time that she was forced to give oral sex to five men. It was also later revealed that Jackie had an intense crush on one of the friends, raising the possibility that she fabricated the rape claim to get his attention.
The Charlottesville police department investigated Jackie’s claims and found no merit to them. The Columbia Graduate School of Journalism investigated Rolling Stone’s report and documented a series of gross failures on the magazine’s part. In a scathing report, Columbia noted that Erdely failed to vet her sources while Rolling Stone editors failed to conduct basic fact-checking.
Nobody was fired from Rolling Stone following the massive failure — not even Erdely. She remains as a contributing editor for the magazine. She has made no public statements or appearances since December.