The former suitemate of the young woman known as “Jackie,” who is at the center of a contested Rolling Stone story about campus sexual assault, has come forward to defend her from charges that her story is a hoax.
“While I cannot say what happened that night, and I cannot prove the validity of every tiny aspect of her story to you, I can tell you that this story is not a hoax, a lie or a scheme,” wrote Emily Clark in the campus paper, Cavalier Daily. “Something terrible happened to Jackie at the hands of several men who have yet to receive any repercussions.”
On Friday, Rolling Stone put out a statement that said the magazine had made an agreement with Jackie to not contact the alleged assailants, something they had said contradictory things about before, and concluded, “Our trust in her was misplaced.” That part of the statement, which implied Jackie had intentionally misled the magazine, has since been taken out without explanation, and is not on the website as of this writing. “I feel this statement is backwards,” Clark wrote, “as it seems it was Jackie who misplaced her trust in Rolling Stone.”
Clark writes that she remembers a “bright, happy and bubbly” suitemate in the fall of 2012 who abruptly became withdrawn and depressed, eventually leaving campus to go home a week before finals began.
She only had a vague idea of what was going on with Jackie. “I remember her letting it slip to me that she had had a terrible experience at a party. I remember her telling me that multiple men had assaulted her at this party. She didn’t say anything more. It seemed that was all she’d allow herself to say. I wish I had done something sooner. I wish I had known how to help,” Clark writes.
The Washington Post has been re-reporting key details of the Rolling Stone story, which despite reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s declarations in the press, seems to have left many stones unturned. On November 28, the Post itself reported that “Erdely spent weeks corroborating details of Jackie’s account, including such minutiae as her work as a lifeguard.” But Erdely and her editors gave conflicting information about whether the assailants were contacted. She wouldn’t tell the Post what her agreement was, but told Slate’s Hanna Rosin, “I reached out to them in multiple ways.” The current Rolling Stone statement says, “We were mistaken in honoring Jackie’s request to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account.”
But the reporting issues seemed to go beyond contacting the assailant, since Erdely also wrote that Jackie’s friends responded with indifference and cruelty to her account of being gang-raped, even saying that reporting it would hurt her social status. The Post interviewed several friends of Jackie, including one who said he came to her aid on the night of her alleged assault, and they remember things differently. Rolling Stone only says of that friend that “we were told [he] would not speak to Rolling Stone,” but it’s unclear if the person refusing to speak is the friend himself or Jackie acting as gatekeeper of which sources Erdely could speak to.
The fraternity Rolling Stone identifies as the site of Jackie’s alleged gang rape, Phi Kappa Psi, put out a statement Friday saying “our initial doubts as to the accuracy of the article have only been strengthened as alumni and undergraduate members have delved deeper.” The statement cited three issues in particular: That no member of Phi Kappa Psi worked as a lifeguard at the Aquatic and Fitness Center in 2012, where Jackie said she met her assailant; that there was no party at the fraternity house on Sept. 28, 2012, the date identified in the piece; and that fraternity pledging and initiation at the university take place in the spring and not the fall.
The Washington Post contacted a man who worked with Jackie as a lifeguard, whose name is similar to the one she gave the paper. He belongs to a different fraternity and told the paper he did not know Jackie, but that information hasn’t yet been independently verified.
The explosive Rolling Stone story, about a culture of enabling rape at the University of Virginia, opened with Jackie’s story but wasn’t limited to it. Still, the recent doubts about Rolling Stone’s verifying the details of Jackie’s account have been used to discredit both her story and the broader question of whether there is an epidemic of sexual assault on campuses going largely unpunished. Over the weekend, one conservative blogger began publishing Jackie’s personal information, including her full name, on Twitter and his website, and activists began a push to have him banned from Twitter.