A defamation trial against Rolling Stone magazine is set to begin on Monday over a November 2014 article that shocked readers, regarding an alleged brutal gang rape at the University of Virginia, entitled, “A Rape on Campus.”
The article, which has since been discredited, focused on the tale of a woman known only as Jackie and her account of being raped by a number of individuals at a fraternity initiation. Nicole Eramo, who has been a counselor to Jackie and works within the university’s administration, claims that the story casts her as the “chief villain,” and she is seeking $7.85 million.
Rolling Stone magazine head to trial tomorrow over debunked story of college rape https://t.co/cD8vwVgr8l
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In April, Jackie was made to answer questions about the case, yet her comments have not been made public. Eramo’s attorneys stated that they intend to call upon Jackie as witness at the trial. Jackie’s attorneys declined to comment.
The story within the notable magazine described in detail Jackie’s account of being raped by seven men while at a Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house in September of 2012. Attorneys for Eramo claim that the article described her in a negative light, as having been indifferent to Jackie’s traumatic experience, and only interested in keeping the university’s reputation protected.
The Associated Press shares how the story has since affected Eramo at her workplace.
“After it was published, Eramo, who then served as associate dean of students, received hundreds of emails and letters calling her a ‘wretched rape apologist’ and ‘disgusting, worthless piece of trash.’ Eramo still works for the university, now in a different administrative role.”
An investigation was launched by Charlottesville police and no evidence was found to corroborate Jackie’s claims and details in the narrative. Her account did not hold up under scrutiny by other media publications. Rolling Stone retracted the story in April of 2015 and since this point, three lawsuits have been filed against the magazine. A judge threw out one of the cases that was brought forth by three fraternity members; however, a $25 million lawsuit that has been filed by Phi Kappa Psi fraternity is scheduled to go to trial towards the end of next year.
The trial involving Eramo is to focus mainly on whether editors at the magazine and the author of the article, Sabrina Erdely, acted intentionally with “malice,” meaning that they were aware that what they wrote of Eramo was false or at least mainly untrue. The judge on the case, Glen Conrad, ruled in September that Eramo must prove “actual malice” to receive monetary damages.
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Lee Berlik, a Virginia attorney spoke on the matter of the trial.
“A lot of this case is already decided. The big unknown really is how much damage did Ms. Eramo suffer to her reputation, what is that worth and I guess, most importantly, did Rolling Stone know what it was writing was untrue or should it have known?”
Eramo’s legal team shared their intent ahead of the trial beginning.
“Ms. Eramo’s legal team is looking forward to presenting the overwhelming evidence showing that Sabrina Erdely and Rolling Stone knew that what they published about Ms. Eramo was false and defamatory.”
In response, Rolling Stone’s lawyers have countered the claims against Erdely, stating they had no reason to not trust Jackie and stressing that her credibility is not on trial in the case. The attorneys also argue that Rolling Stone‘s reporting in regard to Eramo and the university’s management, as well as their response to sexual assault reports, is “accurate and well substantiated.”
“Dean Eramo’s lawyers are attempting to shift the focus of her lawsuit in the media to Rolling Stone’s reporting errors surrounding Jackie,” Rolling Stone spokeswoman Kathryn Brenner said in an email. “The depiction of Dean Eramo in the article was balanced and described the challenges of her role. We now look forward to the jury’s decision in this case.”
[Feature Image by Jay Paul/Getty Images]