Rolling Stone apologized Friday for its viral article about the alleged gang rape of a University of Virginia student by members of a fraternity.
Neither the fraternity nor the university is publicly celebrating that apology as a victory.
Will Dana, the magazine’s managing editor, said the source (identified by the pseudonym “Jackie”) “neither said nor did anything” that made the magazine’s editors “question Jackie’s credibility” when the story was published. In a letter to readers, Dana continued:
In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced. 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. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.
Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity where the gang rape described in Rolling Stone allegedly took place, issued a statement Friday afternoon claiming no knowledge of the alleged incident at the Phi Kappa Psi house or involving its members. The fraternity also denounced sexual violence of any kind.
We continue to be shocked by the allegations and saddened by this story. We have no knowledge of these alleged acts being committed at our house or by our members. Anyone who commits any form of sexual assault, wherever or whenever, should be identified and brought to justice.
The statement goes on to reject specific allegations in the Rolling Stone article. However, this situation calls for more than just a denial of allegations, says Paul Fulton, VP of Duffey Communications and reputation management pro.
“The issue isn’t about the accuracy or inaccuracy of media stories,” he says. “It’s one about victims of sexual violence, which remains a prevalent, if under-reported, crime on college campuses across the country.”
Jackie’s story may not be true, but that doesn’t mean on-campus sexual assault or “rape culture” doesn’t exist. According to Mother Jones, one-fifth of undergraduate women are assaulted in college, and more than a quarter of those victims identify their assailants as fraternity members.
UVA is under especially harsh scrutiny for the way its administrators have handled sexual assault cases.
Fulton says UVA’s response “must clearly articulate its continued commitment to protecting all students from sexual violence,” including taking future allegations seriously.
“Potential perpetrators should know UVA’s environment is one that does not tolerate sexual violence,” he says.
UVA’s president, Teresa A. Sullivan, took exactly that route in an official statement Friday afternoon. It reads, in part:
The University remains first and foremost concerned with the care and support of our students and, especially, any survivor of sexual assault. Our students, their safety, and their wellbeing, remain our top priority.
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.
Sullivan also emphasized that UVA’s work is far from over.
“After that statement,” Fulton says, “UVA must then deliver upon that promise with the policies and resources in place to enforce them.”
Beki Winchel is co-editor of PR Daily.