What's Next In The Rolling Stone Campus Rape Case?

Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images.
The Charlottesville, VA, police department announced yesterday that it was suspending its sexual assault investigation at the University of Virginia, after not finding sufficient evidence of the attack. The department had been investigating horrific gang-rape allegations made by a UVA student (who goes by the pseudonym Jackie) in a 9,000-word Rolling Stone article last November. 

Jackie told RS contributing editor Sabrina Rubin Erdely that, on the night of September 28, 2012, she was raped by seven men during a party at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house. No one was able to corroborate her account, however, and Erdely’s journalistic ethics came under fire when she failed to get statements from Jackie’s alleged attackers. (Erdely didn’t speak to anyone other than Jackie and a few of her friends, who recalled how they remembered Jackie behaving after the alleged incident.) 

After conducting a months-long probe into the article's claims, Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo said in a press conference on Monday, “There is no substantive basis to conclude that what was reported in that article happened.” Though you’d think this news might bring some closure to the cultural maelstrom of issues the case stirred up around campus rape, survivor credibility, and journalistic integrity, it’s triggering a fresh wave of questions about what might come next. 

The Case Isn’t Closed 
Even though the Charlottesville P.D. found no conclusive evidence that Jackie’s alleged rape occurred in the exact way she said it did, that doesn't mean she wasn’t violated — and Police Chief Longo was careful to emphasize that in his remarks on Monday. “Let me clarify something...[a lack of evidence] doesn’t mean something terrible did not happen to Jackie... We are just not able to gather sufficient facts to conclude what that something may have been. So, this case is not closed...by any stretch of the imagination,” he stated.

While the accusations in this particular case couldn't be proven, he seems to imply, that shouldn't change the way assault cases are handled, or discourage other survivors from coming forward. The President of UVA, Teresa Sullivan, echoed this in a statement, saying she was "first and foremost concerned with the care and support of our students and, especially, any survivor of sexual assault."

The Frat Could Sue 
According to reports, the fraternity is considering suing Rolling Stone, calling Erdely’s article “defamatory.” In a statement to Business Insider, the local chapter of Phi Kappa Psi bashed RS, saying the storied music magazine’s reporting “recklessly and prejudicially” dragged the organization’s members into a massively damaging rape scandal. (In January of this year, Time reported that the fraternity's chapter voluntarily suspended itself after the article came out.) Phi Kappa Psi also told Business Insider that it’s “exploring its legal options to address the extensive damage caused by Rolling Stone.”

But, will Phi Psi really sue — and would that even be a good idea? Some experts interviewed by the Washington Post don’t think so, claiming it could subject the fraternity to a new onslaught of bad press. D.C. libel lawyer Charles Tobin told The Post that it would be a “colossal mistake” to sue: “If they bring a lawsuit, they are opening up every young man in that fraternity to scrutiny — their drinking habits, and I’m sure some of them are underage, their sexual habits, and their overall conduct.”

Students React
According to The New York Times, some UVA students quickly responded to the news of the investigation’s suspension on social media, and many of their reactions were negative. Some reportedly said they thought Jackie should be prosecuted for purportedly lying about the rape; others believed she should be expelled. (One commenter on a DailyCaller story felt Jackie should be kicked out for violating the school’s strict honor code.)

But, also per The New York Times, at least one student seemed to feel there was value in the issues raised by Jackie’s claims. As a freshman named Janie Nelson told The Times, “I don’t think there’s a reason to charge her for anything. Even if the article wasn’t completely true, it still brought a good point in the community and has still been important to making it a better place.”

More details will continue to emerge, at least regarding how Rolling Stone handled its reporting of the case, when the Columbia Journalism Review publishes an independent report on the story, which should happen within the next few weeks. And, regardless of how the investigation may (or may not) move forward, Jackie’s story certainly did help spark a broader cultural dialogue about the ongoing campus rape crisis. 
Advertisement