U-Va. Students Challenge Rolling Stone Account of Attack
T. Rees Shapiro
December 10, 2014
It was 1 a.m. on a Saturday when the call came. A friend, a University of Virginia freshman who earlier said she had a date that evening with a handsome junior from her chemistry class, was in hysterics. Something bad had happened.
Arriving at her side, three students —“Randall,” “Andy” and “Cindy” as they were identified in an explosive Rolling Stone account — told The Washington Post that they found their friend in tears. Jackie appeared traumatized, saying her date ended horrifically, with the older student parking his car at his fraternity, asking her to come inside, and then forcing her to perform oral sex on a group of five men.
In their first interviews about the events of that September 2012 night, the three friends separately told The Post that their recollections of the encounter diverge from how Rolling Stone portrayed the incident in a story about Jackie’s alleged gang rape at a U-Va. fraternity. The interviews also provide a richer account of Jackie’s interactions immediately after the alleged attack, and suggest that the friends are skeptical of her account.
The scene with her friends was pivotal in the article, as it alleged that the friends were callously apathetic about a beaten, bloodied, injured classmate reporting a brutal gang rape at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. The account alleged that the students worried about the effect it might have on their social status, how it might reflect on Jackie during the rest of her collegiate career, and how they suggested not reporting it. It set up the article’s theme: That U-Va. has a culture that is indifferent to rape.
“It didn’t happen that way at all,” Andy said.
Students held a candlelight vigil to raise awareness on sexual assault Friday night as Rolling Stone cited “discrepancies” in an article that reported a gang rape in a campus fraternity. (Reuters)
Instead, the friends remember being shocked. Though they did not notice any blood or visible injuries, they said they immediately urged Jackie to speak to police and insisted that they find her help. Instead, they said, Jackie declined and asked to be taken back to her dorm room. They went with her — two of them said they spent the night — seeking to comfort Jackie in what appeared to be a moment of extreme turmoil.
“I mean obviously we were very concerned for her,” Andy said. “We tried to be as supportive as we could be.”
The three students agreed to be interviewed on the condition that The Post use the same aliases as appeared in Rolling Stone because of the sensitivity of the subject.
They said there are mounting inconsistencies with the original narrative in the magazine. The students also expressed suspicions about Jackie’s allegations from that night. They said the name she provided as that of her date did not match anyone at the university, and U-Va. officials confirmed to The Post that no one by that name has attended the school.
And photographs that were texted to one of the friends showing her date that night actually were pictures depicting one of Jackie’s high school classmates in Northern Virginia. That man, now a junior at a university in another state, confirmed that the photographs are of him and said he barely knew Jackie and hasn’t been to Charlottesville for at least six years.
The friends said they never were contacted or interviewed by the pop culture magazine’s reporters or editors. Though vilified in the article as coldly indifferent to Jackie’s ordeal, the students said they cared deeply about their friend’s well-being and safety. Randall said that they made every effort to help Jackie that night.
“She had very clearly just experienced a horrific trauma,” Randall said. “I had never seen anybody acting like she was on that night before and I really hope I never have to again. … If she was acting on the night of Sept. 28, 2012, then she deserves an Oscar.”
They also said Jackie’s description of what happened to her that night differs from what she told Rolling Stone. In addition, information that Jackie gave the three friends about one of her attackers, called “Drew” in Rolling Stone, differed significantly from details she later told The Post, Rolling Stone and friends from sexual assault awareness groups on campus. The three said Jackie did not specifically identify a fraternity that night.
The Rolling Stone article also said that Randall declined to be interviewed, “citing his loyalty to his own frat.” He told The Post that he never was contacted by Rolling Stone and would have agreed to an interview. The article’s writer, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, did not respond to requests for comment this week.
Rolling Stone also declined to comment, citing an internal review of the story. The magazine has apologized for inaccuracies and discrepancies in the published report.
The 9,000-word Rolling Stone article appeared online in late November and led with the brutal account of Jackie’s alleged sexual assault. In the article, Jackie said she attended a date function at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity in the fall of 2012 with a lifeguard she said she met at the university pool. During the party, Jackie said her date “Drew” lured her into a dark room where seven men gang-raped her in an attack that left her bloodied and injured. In earlier interviews with The Post, Jackie stood by the account she provided to Rolling Stone.
Palma Pustilnik, a lawyer representing Jackie, issued a statement Wednesday morning asking that journalists refrain from contacting Jackie or her family. The Post generally does not identify victims of sexual assaults and has used Jackie’s real nickname at her request.
“As I am sure you all can understand, all of this has been very stressful, overwhelming and retraumatizing for Jackie and her family,” Pustilnik said. She declined to answer specific questions or to elaborate in a brief interview Wednesday.
Randall said that he met Jackie shortly after arriving at U-Va. in fall 2012, and the two struck up a quick friendship. He said Jackie was interested in pursuing a romantic relationship with him; he valued her friendship but wasn’t interested in more.
The three friends said that Jackie soon began talking about a handsome junior from chemistry class who had a crush on her and had been asking her out on dates.
Intrigued, Jackie’s friends got his phone number from her and began exchanging text messages with the mysterious upperclassman. He then raved to them about “this super smart hot,” freshman who shared his love of the band Coheed and Cambria, according to the texts, which were provided to The Post.
“I really like this girl,” the chemistry student wrote in one message. Some of the messages included photographs of a man with a sculpted jawline and ocean-blue eyes.
In the text messages, the student wrote that he was jealous that another student had apparently won Jackie’s attention.
“Get this she said she likes some other 1st year guy who dosnt like her and turned her down but she wont date me cause she likes him,” the chemistry student wrote. “She cant turn my down fro some nerd 1st yr. she said this kid is smart and funny and worth it.”
Jackie told her three friends that she accepted the upperclassman’s invitation for a dinner date on Friday Sept. 28, 2012.
Curious about Jackie’s date, the friends said that they failed to locate the student on a U-Va. database and social media. Andy, Cindy and Randall all said they never met the student in person. Before Jackie’s date, the friends said that they became suspicious that perhaps they hadn’t really been in contact with the chemistry student at all.
U-Va. officials told The Post that no student by the name Jackie provided to her friends as her date and attacker in 2012 had ever enrolled at the university. Randall provided The Post with pictures that Jackie’s purported date had sent of himself by text message in 2012.
The Post identified the person in the pictures and learned that his name does not match the one Jackie provided to friends in 2012. In an interview, the man said that he was Jackie’s high school classmate but that he “never really spoke to her.”
The man said that he was never a U-Va. student and is not a member of any fraternity. Additionally, the man said that he had not visited Charlottesville in at least six years and that he was in another state participating in an athletic event during the weekend of Sept. 28, 2012.
“I have nothing to do with it,” he said. He said it appears the photos that were circulated were pulled from social media Web sites.
After the alleged attack, the man who Jackie said had taken her on the date wrote an e-mail to Randall, passing along praise that Jackie apparently had for him.
Randall said that it is apparent to him that he is the “first year” student that the chemistry upperclassman described in text messages, since he had rebuffed Jackie’s advances.
Jackie ultimately told her harrowing account to sexual assault prevention groups on campus and spoke to university officials about it, though she said in interviews that she was always reluctant to identify an attacker and never felt ready to report it to police. In interviews she acknowledged that a police investigation now would be unlikely to yield criminal charges because of a lack of forensic evidence.
Emily Renda, a 2014 U-Va. graduate who survived a rape during her freshman year and now works for the university as a sexual violence specialist, has told The Post that she met Jackie in the fall of 2013. Renda said that, at the time, Jackie told her that she had been attacked by five students at Phi Kappa Psi. Renda said she learned months later that the number of perpetrators had changed to seven.
The Rolling Stone article, which appeared on the magazine’s Web site last month, roiled campus and set off protests, vandalism and self-reflection. U-Va. officials responded to the article by suspending the university’s Greek system until early January and promoting a broader discussion on campus about sexual assault and campus safety. University officials have declined to comment on the specifics of the allegations and the article.
In an interview Tuesday, university president Teresa A. Sullivan said that her administration will continue to cooperate with authorities to investigate the case; she wants the university community to focus on prevention of sexual assault.
Charlottesville City police Capt. Gary Pleasants said that detectives are looking into the allegations at the request of the university. Andy and Randall said they both have spoken to police about the case since the Rolling Stone article published.
“The investigation is continuing,” Pleasants said.
Last week, Jackie for the first time revealed a name of her alleged attacker to other friends who had known her more recently, those recent friends said. That name was different from the name she gave Andy, Cindy and Randall that first night. All three said that they had never heard the second name before it was given to them by a reporter.
On Friday, The Post interviewed a man whose name is similar to the second one Jackie used for her attacker. He said that while he did work as a lifeguard at the same time as Jackie, he had never met her in person and had never taken her out on a date. He also said that he was not a member of Phi Kappa Psi.
The fraternity at the center of the Rolling Stone allegations has said that it did not host any registered social event on the weekend of Sept. 28, 2012, and it said in a statement that no members of Phi Kappa Psi at the time worked at the campus Aquatic and Fitness Center. A lawyer who has represented the fraternity said that no member of the fraternity at the time matched a description of “Drew” given by Jackie to The Post and to Rolling Stone.
In interviews, some of Jackie’s closest friends said they believe she suffered a horrific trauma during her freshman year, but others have expressed doubts about the account.
“I definitely believe she was sexually assaulted,” said U-Va. junior Alex Pinkleton, a sexual violence peer advocate who survived a rape and an attempted rape her first two years on campus and is a close friend of Jackie’s. “The main message we want to come out of all this is that sexual assault is a problem nationwide that we need to act in preventing. It has never been about one story. This is about the thousands of women and men who have been victims of sexual assault and have felt silenced not only by their perpetrators, but by society’s misunderstanding and stigmatization of rape.”
Rachel Soltis, who lived with Jackie during their freshman year, said that her suite mate appeared depressed and stopped going to classes. Andy, Cindy and Randall all said that Jackie’s behavior clearly changed that semester.
Jackie said in interviews last week that she wants to use her ordeal to help focus more resources on survivors to augment existing prevention efforts. She said that she wants to pursue a career in social work, helping others recover from sexual assaults.
“I didn’t think it could ever happen to me and then it did and I had to deal with it,” Jackie said. “I didn’t think things like this happened in the real world. Maybe now another freshman girl will decide not to go into a room with someone they don’t know very well.”
Nick Anderson in Charlottesville, Jennifer Jenkins and Julie Tate contributed to this report.
This story has been updated.