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Will unraveling of Rolling Stone’s UVa sexual assault story make other victims reluctant to speak out?

After reporting on a horrific case of sexual assault at the University of Virginia, Rolling Stone magazine acknowledged discrepancies in the victim’s story, saying their trust in her was “misplaced.” Judy Woodruff speaks with T. Rees Shapiro of The Washington Post for more on the revelations that have cast doubt on the account.

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    New questions and doubts are being raised about the story of an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia, an account that grabbed national attention, including ours.

    The story, first published in "Rolling Stone," detailed the alleged brutal rape of a freshman at a fraternity house two years ago. The victim said she was assaulted by seven men over three hours while two others watched, including her reported date.

    After questions emerged, "Rolling Stone"'s managing editor published a note today about discrepancies in the victim's story.

    He wrote — quote — "We have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced."

    The fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, disputed parts of her story and said there was no social event at the house on the night in question.

    We invited "Rolling Stone" and the reporter, whom we interviewed before about this, to appear tonight. We also invited the University of Virginia. All declined.

    But reporter Taylor Rees Shapiro broke part of this story for The Washington Post. He joins me from a university studio in Charlottesville.

    And we welcome you to the program.

    Taylor Rees Shapiro, this is an horrific story as it was first reported. What parts of the alleged victim's account have now been called into question?

  • T. REES SHAPIRO, The Washington Post:

    What has been called into question are the dates — first of all, the date that she said that it occurred.

    She said that occurred on September 28, 2012, which would have been pretty early on into her freshman year in campus. The fraternity today released a statement saying that, in fact, they had not hosted any parties that entire weekend, which would immediately call into question the timing of what she had said the allegations had occurred.

    In addition, it's not clear precisely who was among her alleged attackers. She had said for years even, you know, since from the very beginning, that she had identified one of the men that she believed was involved, that, in fact, that they were somebody that they — that she had been dating him, you know, had gone out on a date with him.

    When pressed, and she finally gave up a name to her friends about who it was, some digging into his background, you know, initially raised some, you know, questions about her account, because things didn't line up. It appeared that the person involved was, in fact, never a member of Phi Kappa Psi, and other details about his background didn't match other previously released information that she had given people.


    Well, now you talked to her several times, you wrote, in your story. How is she explaining these discrepancies?


    She sticks by her story.

    She believes that the account of what she gave is the truth. And I gave her multiple opportunities in interviews to tell me the real events as they had actually occurred that night. It's impossible to tell, from what we know now, what really did happen.

    It appears pretty clear that she faced some sort of trauma. I can't say for sure. But other details as they emerge are calling into question other parts of her story.


    Now, you also talked with her friends, other people who knew her at the time this happened. And what are they saying?


    Her friends are devastated.

    I think a lot of people are about everything. It's hard to know what to believe. It's pretty clear now that the details related in the first article, you know, didn't line up with stuff that's pretty easy to check out, such as the fact whether or not a party was held at that house that weekend.

    From now, it's about building trust. It's about building trust between her and other people around her and about the people who trusted her to tell them — for her to tell them the true story.


    What about the fraternity? They were asked, I gather, by "Rolling Stone" months ago about this — starting months ago — and it wasn't until just today that they put out a statement saying, you know, as you said, that the date, there wasn't a social event that night, and so forth. Do you have a better sense of their perspective in this?


    I have spoken with members of the fraternity throughout my reporting.

    We reached out to them from the very beginning, because we wanted to make sure that we got all sides of this story. They were hard-pressed. Few people actually talked to us on the phone, and, if they did, they just said they didn't want to comment. Obviously, they were under fire. They were under pressure.

    Since then, people have already come forward to me saying that they feel relief. They had even begun to doubt themselves. It's hard to say that you know everything that goes on in a fraternity house any weekend, but they now feel some sense of validity that their side was the truth from the very beginning.


    What happens now at the university? Are they investigating? We know from other reporting there were other rapes that reportedly had taken place. Other students have given accounts of that at the university.

    Are those investigations continuing? What is the university saying going forward?


    It's pretty clear that this article and other allegations from this resulted in some serious sort of soul-searching here at the University of Virginia, for good reason. Sexual assault is a serious problem on college campuses everywhere.

    And I think that they, from the very beginning, said that they needed to address it. Regardless of the facts of this specific incident, I think that the need for them to address these issues on the campus still exist.


    Now, you also talked to other women who said they were sexual assaulted at the University of Virginia, some of them expressing concern that the unraveling of this story is going to have an effect on how seriously people take sexual assault on campus.

    What are they saying?


    They're saying, again, that it's about trust on the campus.

    In order for victims and survivors of sexual assault to feel comfortable to come forward, they need to feel that they're in an environment where they will be welcomed, where their story will be treated as credible. Obviously, you know, in instances where sexual assault allegations don't hold up to the facts, you know, that, in part, discredits other people who want to come forward.

    At the same time, you know, they are all about moving forward and encouraging others to come forward with their stories, because it's so crucial to address this national issue on college campuses.


    Taylor Rees Shapiro with The Washington Post, we thank you.


    Thank you.

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