(CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.) — Jurors watched video testimony Monday morning from “Jackie,” a woman at the center of a defamation suit against Rolling Stone magazine by a former associate dean at the University of Virginia.
Her haunting tale as the alleged victim of a vicious sexual assault at a prominent fraternity that was depicted in the magazine’s retracted article, “A Rape on Campus,” stunned the nation and invigorated a widespread discussion on sexual assault on college campuses.
Video of Jackie’s deposition from April of this year was shown before a 10-person jury in Charlottesville federal court as part of a $7.85 million defamation suit filed by a former associate dean, Nicole Eramo, at the University of Virginia against Sabrina Erdely, the writer of the “A Rape on Campus” story that was published in Rolling Stone magazine, and the magazine itself. Monitors were turned off for the rest of the gallery to preserve Jackie’s identity.
In the video deposition, Jackie testified that she thought details of her alleged rape were private and that Erdely would focus her reporting on sexual assault advocacy.
“I was under the impression that they were not going to be published. I was naïve,” she said in the deposition.
Jackie said that she did not understand what phrases like “on-the-record” or “off-the-record” meant. When she expressed her concerns to Erdely a few weeks before the story’s publication, Erdely told her it was too late to back out, according to Jackie.
“I remember her telling me there was no way for me to pull out at that point,” Jackie said. “I remember feeling scared and overwhelmed and unsure of what to do. I felt like I was getting a lot of pressure from a lot of different people and I didn’t know what to do. I did not want to participate in the article at that point.”
Jackie said she was worried about the way Eramo would be portrayed in the article, admitting she had trouble sleeping and suffered anxiety leading up to publication of the article.
“I believe that Ms. Erdely was concerned about the administration as a whole, and Dean Eramo was a part of that and I didn’t want Dean Eramo hurt,” Jackie said. “I respected and cared about Dean Eramo.”
The 9,000-word Rolling Stone article published in 2014 captured in graphic details the night Jackie says she was allegedly brutally gang raped by several men when she was a freshman at the University of Virginia. The article also described her as supposedly facing callous indifference from college authorities.
But following the publication, police announced that they had no reason to believe a rape as Jackie had described it had taken place. The article was retracted after a Columbia Journalism School report found it to be “a journalistic failure,” including Erdely’s failure to interview any of the alleged perpetrators of the crime.
Attorneys for Rolling Stone said they still believe their reporting about Eramo and the university’s handling of sexual assault reports is “accurate and well substantiated,” according to court documents. Last year a U.S. Department of Education investigation determined that UVA did not immediately respond to some sexual assault complaints and created a “hostile environment” for victims, Rolling Stone emphasized.
“We made journalistic mistakes with respect to Jackie’s story and we have learned from them, but these mistakes do not support Dean Eramo’s lawsuit,” the publication said in a statement to ABC News last Thursday.
“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.”
Former UVA Associate Dean Nicole Eramo says she was unduly maligned by her portrayal in the debunked article. She says Erdely portrayed her as the chief villain in the story: an uncaring, callous and ineffective voice who sought to suppress Jackie’s claims.
Eramo is seeking $7.85 million, based on the damages inflicted upon her reputation, career and health.
Erdely admitted in court that many mistakes were made in her reporting of the story.
“I wish that Jackie had not been in my story,” Erdely said last week during her testimony. “It wasn’t a mistake to rely on someone emotionally fragile. It was a mistake to rely on someone intent to deceive me.”
She maintains that her story did not damage Eramo’s reputation.
“She still works at the university, she still got a pay raise,” Erdely said last week.
Attorneys representing Jackie argued earlier this year that the deposition would re-traumatize Jackie because they say she is a sexual assault survivor.
Eramo and her attorneys argued it was important for Jackie to provide details behind her motivation to allegedly fabricate a story that was read by millions.
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