A defamation lawsuit filed by a former University of Virginia dean against Rolling Stone magazine for its botched article about an alleged gang rape at the Charlottesville school is set for trial starting Monday.
Nicole Eramo was the associate dean of students who counseled "Jackie," an otherwise unidentified student whose tale of sexual brutality in a fraternity house set off a nationwide firestorm when the magazine published the article in November 2014. Eramo is suing the magazine for almost $8 million, saying A Rape on Campus cast her as the "chief villain."
Lawyers for Eramo have included Jackie on their witness list.
The gripping article detailed Jackie's claim that she was at a fraternity party on Sept. 28, 2012, when she was lured upstairs, raped and beaten by several men over a three-hour period. The fraternity immediately challenged the article's claims, which quickly drew intense media scrutiny followed by skepticism.
Charlottesville police investigated and found no evidence of rape. The magazine commissioned the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism to study the way the article was handled. That 13,000-word report — 4,000 words longer than the article itself — found a systematic failure by the magazine, starting with relying too heavily on a single source: Jackie. The report also said the magazine, not Jackie, was to blame for the botched piece.
The magazine issued an apology in December 2014 for its failures in reporting and editing. The story was fully retracted four months later.
Eramo's lawsuit claims writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely and the magazine sought "to weave a narrative that depicted the University of Virginia as an institution that is indifferent to rape on campus, and more concerned with protecting its reputation than with assisting victims of sexual assault."
The lawsuit says Rolling Stone falsely accused Eramo of being instrumental in persuading Jackie not to report the rape and discouraging Jackie from sharing her story with others or telling police.
Eramo still works for the university, but no longer as a dean of students. She spoke with ABC News last week, saying Rolling Stone depicted her as insensitive to students who were sexual assault victims.
“They made it look like I used the trust of, yeah, women to cover up rapes,” Eramo said. “And that was so far from anything I would ever do. It was just unbelievable to me.”
The magazine issued a statement accusing Eramo's lawyers of "attempting to shift the focus of her lawsuit in the media to Rolling Stone’s reporting errors." The statement pointed to a U.S. Education Department investigation of the university's practices — an investigation that found a "mixed record of responding to reports of sexual harassment and sexual violence."
Rolling Stone said the depiction of Eramo in its ill-fated article "was balanced and described the challenges of her role.”
Eramo's lawsuit also has drawn the ire of the National Organization for Women. In an open letter to university President Teresa Sullivan in January, NOW said demands made by Eramo's lawyers for detailed information from Jackie amounted to "re-victimization."
"It is exactly this kind of victim blaming and shaming that fosters rape culture, re-victimizes those brave enough to have come forward, and silences countless other victims," the letter said.
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