Two years after debunked campus rape story, former UVA dean takes Rolling Stone to trial

Rolling Stone headed to trial today for a defamation case over their portrayal of an University of Virginia dean in a discredited article of brutal gang rape. A statement from the student at the center of the article contradicts the magazine’s portrayal of the dean.

Nicole Eramo, the former dean of student affairs, said the 2014 article portrayed her as indifferent to the student’s plight. Eramo is now suing the magazine for $7.85 million in a defamation lawsuit.

The statement from the student, who is only identified as “Jackie,” was part of a deposition Eramo’s attorney read during opening arguments Tuesday.

The Associated Press reports that in the deposition Jackie said the dean was supportive.

“I never felt like she suppressed my sexual assault,” Jackie said in the deposition. “I personally thought that she did everything right.”

Jackie will not appear in person to testify in the case nor will her name be released. The video of her deposition will be shown to the jury and not released to the public.

The story, “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA,” written by Sabrina Erdely, was discredited after media outlets and police investigated the gang rape allegations of Jackie.

Rolling Stone’s attorney Scott Sexton said in his opening statements that Eramo must prove the magazine acted with “actual malice” and that the magazine knew the information written about Eramo was false, the Associated Press reports.

Sexton further noted that the magazine staff believed Jackie’s story to be entirely true and admitted to putting too much faith in her, Reuters reports.

Before the trial, Rolling Stone pointed to a U.S. Department of Education multi-year sexual violence report on the university, according to the Washington Post.

Rolling Stone said in a statement that the report “found Dean Eramo to have specifically contributed to the University’s hostile environment for sexual assault victims — an assertion much more critical that any statement from the article.” They further stated, “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.”

Eramo’s face was shown in the article in a photo illustration, and her name was mentioned 31 times throughout. In her first public interview since the article was published, Eramo discussed with ABC 20/20’s Amy Robach last week her reactions to article, which she says made it look like she “used the trust of young women to cover up rapes.”

In the interview, Eramo’s lawyer, Libby Locke, said that the story portrayed Eramo as a “callous, indifferent administrator.”

“After two years of litigation, Ms. Eramo’s legal team has uncovered damning evidence of Rolling Stone’s reckless disregard for the truth and Ms. Erderly’s pattern of willful avoidance of the facts,” said Locke in a separate statement. “We are excited for a jury of Ms. Eramo’s peers to hear the evidence and to pass judgment on Rolling Stone’s false and defamatory article. We are confident that Ms. Eramo will prevail.”

Eramo was a University of Virginia alum and chairwoman of the sexual misconduct board while acting as associate dean of students. She now works in the office of the vice president for student affairs and has little contact with students.