A University of Virginia Dean Is Suing 'Rolling Stone' for Nearly $8 Million over the 'Rape on Campus' Story
Nicole Eramo, the associate dean of students at the University of Virginia, is making a case in court that she was portrayed as the "chief villain" in the discredited magazine story.
The University of Virginia campus. Photo via Flickr user Phil Roeder
The villain in "A Rape on Campus," the now-debunked blockbuster Rolling Stone story, has changed practically by the month. In December 2014, it was the anonymous frat bros from Phi Kappa Psi who allegedly gang-raped a woman the story called "Jackie" while instructing each other to "grab its motherfucking leg." Then, in the months that followed, the villain became reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely, who we now know didn't properly corroborate Jackie's tale.
But Nicole Eramo, the associate dean of students at the University of Virginia, is making a case in court that was she was portrayed as the "chief villain" throughout. For that hardship, she's suing the magazine, its parent company Wenner Media, and Erdely for $7.85 million in total damages, according to a 76-page complaint unveiled Tuesday in Charlottesville Circuit Court. She's claiming six counts of defamation for both the print and online versions of the piece, interviews Erdely gave, and statements the reporter made in her own defense.
"I am filing this defamation lawsuit to set the record straight—and to hold the magazine and the author of the article accountable for their actions in a way they have refused to do themselves," Eramo said in a statement.
According to the complaint, the Rolling Stone article claimed "Eramo intentionally tried to coddle Jackie to persuade her not to report the rape; that she was indifferent to Jackie's allegations; that she discouraged Jackie from sharing her story with others; that she 'abused' Jackie; that she did 'nothing' in response to Jackie's allegations; that she claimed that UVA withholds rape statistics 'because nobody wants to send their daughter to the rape school'; that she did not report Jackie's alleged assault to the police; that she 'brushed off' Jackie; and that she actively sought to 'suppress' Jackie's supposed gang rape."
Instead, Eramo claims, she arranged two separate meetings between the police and Jackie that didn't result in an official complaint because she "adamantly refused to cooperate with law enforcement or name her alleged attackers." That narrative has been largely backed up by the local police.
What's more, the complaint argues that an image of Eramo was photoshopped blue and placed in a way that made it look as if she was giving a thumbs-up to a rape victim. That illustration is discussed in the suit as evidence of the dean's characterization as a villain.
In response to the piece, Eramo apparently received emails calling her "evil," a "wretched rape apologist," and a "disgusting, worthless piece of trash," according to the complaint, which cited messages like one that read, "I hope you burn in hell forever you fat hypocrite!!!" Eramo's attorney goes on to call Erdely "wanton" and the publisher "malicious."
After the story went viral. Erdely gave numerous media appearances repeating her claims—and statements she made on The Brian Lehrer Show and a Slate podcast constitute two of the defamation counts.
By December 5, however, the magazine said there was reason to doubt the memorable gang rape scene that made it so explosive. Erdely then made statements defending her reporting and condemning Eramo's supposed inaction, which are cited in multiple defamation counts.
For what it's worth, according to the Washington Post, which first broke news of the lawsuit, Jackie wasn't on board with their characterization of Eramo:
After the Rolling Stone article [was] published, Jackie joined other sexual assault prevention advocates and survivors in a letter of support for Eramo. Jackie wrote that Eramo counseled her with compassion at a time when the student was severely depressed.
"Dean Eramo has truly saved my life," Jackie wrote. "She listened attentively to my story and provided me with several resources... I can't imagine what my life would be like now if it were not for Nicole Eramo."
Erdely did not respond to a request for comment.
Follow Allie Conti on Twitter.