WASHINGTON — Rolling Stone has clarified its apology over a story that had reported a female student was gang-raped at a University of Virginia fraternity, telling readers the mistakes were the magazine’s fault, not the alleged victim’s.
That’s a shift from the original note to readers, issued Friday, when it said of Jackie, the woman who claimed to have been gang-raped at a Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, “Our trust in her was misplaced.” The updated note removes that line, which struck some critics as blaming the victim.
The magazine said that it shouldn’t have agreed to Jackie’s request not to contact the alleged assailants to get their side of the story, out of sensitivity to her. “These mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie,” wrote the magazine’s managing editor, Will Dana. “We apologize to anyone who was affected by the story and we will continue to investigate the events of that evening.” The decision not to contact the alleged rapists prompted criticism from other news organizations.
Last month’s sensational story used Jackie’s case as an example of what it called a culture of sexual violence hiding in plain sight at U.Va., one of the nation’s leading public universities. The story claimed that too many people on the Charlottesville, Virginia, campus put protecting the school’s image and their own reputations above seeking justice for sex crimes.
The allegations rocked the campus and elevated the issue of sexual assault, leading to protests, a suspension of fraternity activities and an emergency Board of Visitors meeting.
Dana’s updated message added some details calling into question the magazine’s original story. He noted that Phi Kappa Psi has denied the assault, and said it didn’t host an event on the night Jackie alleged she was raped. And Dana said that Jackie is now unsure that the man who allegedly lured her into a room to be gang-raped by seven men, identified as “Drew,” was a member of Phi Kappa Psi.
“According to the Washington Post, `Drew’ actually belongs to a different fraternity and when contacted by the paper, he denied knowing Jackie,” Dana wrote in the new note. “Jackie told Rolling Stone that after she was assaulted, she ran into `Drew’ at a UVA pool where they both worked as lifeguards. In its statement, the Phi Psi says none of its members worked at the pool in the fall of 2012.” Dana also cited the Post’s account of several of Jackie’s friends doubting her “narrative,” although Jackie told the Post she stood by the account she gave to Rolling Stone.
Rolling Stone spokeswoman Melissa Bruno said in an email the magazine updated the note on Saturday to “account for discrepancies others are reporting.”
Some advocates for rape victims have expressed concern that the magazine’s backpedaling could lead to a setback in efforts to combat sexual assaults both at U.Va. and college campuses elsewhere.