- The Washington Times - Monday, March 23, 2015

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Authorities have suspended their investigation of an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity, saying they could find no evidence of the incident that was first reported in stark detail in Rolling Stone magazine in November.

Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo said Monday that the purported rape victim — identified only as “Jackie” in the Rolling Stone article — declined to provide a statement to investigators, and had made previous, unverified reports of being attacked in the college town by other men. Her account of being gang-raped at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house in 2012 formed the core of the magazine’s cover story.

“Unfortunately, we are not able to conclude, to any substantive degree, that an incident that is consistent with the facts contained in that article occurred at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house or any other fraternity house, for that matter,” Chief Longo said during an afternoon press conference.

“I want to be clear about something: That doesn’t mean something terrible didn’t happen to Jackie on the evening of September 28, 2012,” the police chief said. “We are just not able to gather sufficient facts to conclude what that something may have been.

“So this case is not closed. It’s not closed by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “It’s suspended until such time [as] we are able to gather more information or until such time that someone comes forward and provides us with more information.”

The Rolling Stone article, “A Rape on Campus,” provided graphic details about a brutal attack by seven fraternity members, generating outrage at UVa and across the country as it depicted a so-called “rape culture” on college campuses marred by dangerous fraternity systems and insensitive school administrations. The University of Virginia temporarily suspended all of its fraternities, including Phi Kappa Psi, whose house was subsequently vandalized and whose members received anonymous death threats.

But the magazine in December issued an online apology for the story after follow-up reporting by Rolling Stone and other media outlets failed to corroborate details of Jackie’s story.

At Monday’s news conference, Chief Longo said that police first heard the rape allegation last April, when they interviewed Jackie about a separate complaint she had filed. That complaint was about an April 6 incident in which she claimed four men threw a bottle at her face in the popular University Corner area of Charlottesville.

“When she went home that night, [she said] her roommate had to help pick the glass particles from her face. That roommate was interviewed and denies doing that,” he said.

Describing the injury as more of an “abrasion,” Chief Longo said Jackie then told police that she had been attacked at a Phi Kappa Psi fraternity party in 2012 when she was a freshman.

When asked if there was any evidence that the young woman was assaulted by anyone anywhere on the night in question, Chief Longo said: “We certainly can’t say that something didn’t happen. Even her friends that she met with that early morning would say something happened [but there is] no evidence to support it.”

He said that since last year, the police department has interviewed about 70 witnesses, including Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the reporter who wrote the Rolling Stone story, and several men who were members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity on the night in question and members of other nearby fraternities.

Requests for comment emailed to the alleged victim were not returned Monday.

Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring issued a statement thanking the Charlottesville Police Department’s “diligence, professionalism and compassion” in the investigation, adding that a special task force will offer to the governor recommendations on how to “prevent and respond to reports of sexual violence on Virginia campuses” in a few weeks.

The story collapses

According to the Rolling Stone story, UVa school officials failed to respond to the incident, and Jackie’s friends told her not to go to the hospital because reporting the incident could have social consequences that would bar her from fraternity parties.

The severity of violence depicted in the story, along with the reportedly heartless response from her friends and the school, ignited a firestorm of criticism and controversy across the nation, outraging students and sexual assault activists. It also sparked a backlash against Greek organizations, resulting in a violent attack on the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house and self-imposed sanctions on the UVa’s Greek community.

But within weeks after the story was published, several of its details reported were disproven: Jackie’s friends — referenced by pseudonyms in the article — went public and said the magazine’s version was littered with inaccuracies.

On Dec. 5, Rolling Stone editor Will Dana issued a statement: “In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account.”

Charlottesville police cleared the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity of any wrongdoing but continued investigating to determine if Jackie had been sexually assaulted somewhere else.

The Washington Times reported in December that the three phone numbers Jackie told her friends belonged to the man who raped her were actually fake “Internet phone numbers” generated by a service that helps people veil their identities. The alleged attacker’s name — Haven Monahan — also did not appear in the UVa school registry nor anywhere else in the U.S., and it was proven that the fraternity did not have a party on the night in question.

Because Jackie told her friends about Monahan’s existence several weeks before she alleged any rape occurred, early defenses that Jackie was confused and had simply suffered “rape trauma” were discredited. Monahan purportedly had texted with some of Jackie’s friends about his feelings for her before the alleged Sept. 28, 2012, rape occurred.

“We’ve made numerous attempts to identify who Haven Monahan is to the extent that Haven Monahan even exists using that telephone number that they believe they were texting back and forth to. We searched numerous Internet sites to identify him and there was no information that could be obtained,” Chief Longo said Monday.

Questionable journalism

UVa junior Ryan Duffin was the first person Jackie reportedly called after the alleged rape.

When asked by The Daily Caller on Dec. 18 whether he believed she could have fabricated the rape claim, Mr. Duffin replied, “It’s a definite possibility.”

It was later reported that one of the emails that Mr. Duffin had received, purportedly written by Jackie, was plagiarized from a 1998 script for the TV teen drama “Dawson’s Creek.”

“When you like someone more than he likes you, you’ll do anything to switch the scales,” Jackie said in the October 2012 email.

Mr. Duffin told The Times on Monday that, in retrospect, he noted many problems with Jackie’s story that suggested something was wrong.

“The ‘Dawson’s Creek’ plagiarism is suspect. I think by the time it came out that it was plagiarized, I was already somewhat numbed by all the other evidence that had shown to be of questionable veracity. It just seemed like another item in an ever-growing list of questionable pieces of evidence,” he said.

The investigatory practices of Ms. Erdely drove a national debate about journalism ethics in an age of political correctness: Ms. Erdely declined to contact Monahan for fair comment in the article because the alleged victim had asked her not to. Mr. Dana, the editor, later admitted that decision was a mistake, explaining the magazine was only trying to be “sensitive.”

Ms. Erdely’s unwillingness to investigate her source’s claims, however, proved damaging for her publication’s credibility, and the subsequent fallout over the story raised questions as to whether it would create a chilling effect for future victims.

When asked if the Rolling Stone story may have such an effect, Chief Longo said: “That very well may be a result. That’s a discussion we’ve had.”

Victim’s advocates expressed a similar concern.

“Sexual assault is a widespread problem that impacts campuses across the country, and the majority of sexual assaults are never reported. Yet oftentimes when survivors come forward, many encounter barriers. In the aftermath of the Rolling Stone article, we don’t want victims to feel discouraged about speaking out. Survivors’ voices are so important, and it takes courage to talk about what happened,” said Tracy Cox of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

‘Mistakes were made’

In her article, Ms. Erdely cited the 1984 rape of UVa alumna Liz Seccuro, who was sexually assaulted at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house. Ms. Seccuro’s story was corroborated after one of her assailants mailed her a letter apologizing for his “behavior”; the letter’s author was later prosecuted and convicted.

Ms. Erdely incorporated Ms. Seccuro’s story into her Rolling Stone article to bolster Jackie’s credibility since the student claimed to have been raped at the same house.

“I don’t blame Rolling Stone per se,” Ms. Seccuro told The Times. “I think that the reporter was dazzled by Jackie’s story in that it mirrored my own, thereby setting up a terrible tradition of gang rape at the fraternity house. Mistakes were made along the way, but that doesn’t mean there’s not an epidemic of sexual assault at the University of Virginia and other campuses around the country. Our focus needs to remain on the scourge of campus sexual assault perpetrated against both young men and women.”

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