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  • Rolling Stone Retracts UVA Article Detailing Alleged Gang Rape

    We previously reported that on November 19, 2014, Rolling Stone published an article titled “A Rape on Campus” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely. The article offers a brutal account of an alleged sexual assault of a freshman student, who is referred to as “Jackie” in the article, by seven men inside a fraternity house at the University of Virginia. The article sent shockwaves across the University of Virginia campus and produced international headlines concerning the University’s “culture of hidden sexual violence.”

    Now, in an unusual development, Rolling Stone has retracted the highly controversial article. “In the face of new information, there now appears to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced,” the magazine’s managing editor, Will Dana, wrote in a statement on December 5, 2014.

    The magazine’s decision to step away from its story comes amid increased scrutiny over Erdely’s decision not to question the fraternity members who were allegedly involved in the gang rape. “Because of the sensitive nature of Jackie’s story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her,” Dana said in a statement. “We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account,” the magazine’s statement said. “We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.”

    After the magazine released its retraction on Friday, University President Teresa Sullivan also released a statement reaffirming the University’s pledge to properly address sexual assault and promptly and adequately respond to claims of sexual misconduct. “Over the past two weeks, our community has been more focused than ever on one of the most difficult and critical issues facing higher education today: sexual violence on college campuses. Today’s news must not alter this focus,” stated President Sullivan.

    President Sullivan is correct – Rolling Stone’s decision to retract its story does not change the fact that campus sexual assault remains a critically important issue affecting colleges and universities across the nation. However, as demonstrated by the recent University of Virginia case, the stakes are high all around. An improper, impartial or inadequate investigation of a claim of sexual misconduct by an institution, or in this case, a magazine, has serious consequences for the victim, the accused student and the institution. For example, an improper investigation serves to discourage alleged victims from coming forward. Moreover, at an increasing rate, students who have been accused of sexual misconduct are suing their institutions alleging that their institutions grossly violated their respective due process rights. A number of these complaints also state that the employment of a “rush to judgment” attitude by institutions has resulted in egregious miscarriages of justice for accused students.

    Institutions must ensure they are doing everything they can to effectively recognize and respond to allegations of sexual misconduct while maintaining the level of fairness required by Title IX. To that end, all school officials must receive training on how to recognize and prevent claims of sexual misconduct and also what to do if a claim occurs and what investigative steps to take if claims are made. Likewise, employees involved in implementing grievance procedures must receive training on how to promptly and equitably investigate sexual misconduct complaints. Prompt, comprehensive and impartial investigations of sexual misconduct will help to ensure your institution satisfies its obligations to both the alleged victim and the accused student.

    If you or your institution has any questions or concerns regarding education related issues, please contact James G. Ryan at jryan@cullenanddykman.com or at (516) 357 – 3750 or Hayley B. Dryer at hdryer@cullenanddykman.com or at (516) 357 – 3745.