In the $7.5 million defamation case against Rolling Stone, jurors heard Monday from Jackie, the young woman whose alleged gang rape was central to the now-contested story. The young woman said she was uncomfortable speaking about her alleged rape but was pressured into it by reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely.
“I was 20 years old and had no idea there was an off-the-record or an on-the-record,” Jackie said in a deposition taped in April and played in court today.
Jackie said she couldn’t remember many specific details because she had suffered post-traumatic stress disorder. “I stand by what I told Rolling Stone. I believed it to be true at the time,” she told the jury.
Published in November 2014, “A Rape on Campus” detailed Jackie’s allegations that she was gang-raped by seven men at a fraternity house at the University of Virginia.
After the story’s publication, other reporters found notable discrepancies, and local police said they’d found no evidence that supported the Jackie’s allegations. Ultimately, the magazine retracted the story.
Nicole Eramo, a UVA dean at the time, is suing Rolling Stone for $7.5 million dollars, saying in her complaint that Erdely’s story cast her as “the chief villain,” using her “to personify the University’s alleged institutional indifference to rape.”
Jackie said in her deposition that she initially believed that she’d be talking to Erdely about sexual-assault advocacy in general, not about her own rape.
Jackie said she was upset when she learned how central her story would be to Erdely’s narrative, adding that she was also nervous about how Rolling Stone would portray UVA administrators, including Eramo.
“I didn’t want Dean Eramo hurt,” she said. “I respected and cared about Dean Eramo.”
Jackie said that she was plagued by anxiety before the article’s publication and tried to back out.
“I remember [Erdely] telling me there was no way for me to pull out at that point,” Jackie said, recalling a conversation a few weeks before the Rolling Stone story’s publication. “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.”
(In earlier testimony, Erdely said she would have allowed Jackie to back out of the story, though she would still have written about the topic of rape on the campus.)
Only the jurors saw the video footage; to protect Jackie’s anonymity, all other observers heard only the audio. Throughout Jackie’s deposition, her tone was “timid and quiet,” and she paused and struggled repeatedly throughout the deposition, the Associated Press reported. A Rolling Stone lawyer said Jackie sounded like “a shell of a person” compared to the gregarious personality in the initial interviews with Erdely, the AP’s reporter noted.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.