CHARLOTTESVILLE — “Jackie,” the University of Virginia student who described a brutal gang rape in a Rolling Stone magazine article, said that she felt pressured to cooperate with the article’s reporter and expressed concerns about the article’s veracity to friends and school administrators in the days before it was published.
Jurors heard from Jackie in a recorded deposition played in a federal courtroom here Monday, her first public remarks since shortly after Rolling Stone published her now-discredited allegations of a fraternity gang rape nearly two years ago. Jackie had issued a statement at the time the Rolling Stone article was published in November 2014 and spoke to The Washington Post in a series of interviews in the weeks that followed.
At issue in the defamation case against Rolling Stone is whether the magazine and the article’s reporter intentionally smeared Nicole Eramo, then a U-Va. associate dean who was in charge of the school’s sexual assault prevention programs. Eramo argues that Rolling Stone inaccurately portrayed her as indifferent to sexual assault, that it knew that elements of its article weren’t true and that the material the reporter gathered was made to fit into a predetermined narrative about how schools mishandle sexual assault cases.
By the time Jackie spoke with reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely, she was a U-Va. junior and had for two years told friends and members of the U-Va. community that she was sexually assaulted at a fraternity party. She had also gone to Eramo seeking help. Erdely testified last week that she believed Jackie’s detailed account of the ordeal.
Jackie said during the taped deposition that she stands by the account she gave Rolling Stone and The Post in 2014 and believed it was true at the time. But she also testified that she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has memory loss and can no longer recall specific details.
In the taped testimony, Jackie said she felt pressured to cooperate with the reporter and told friends that she no longer wanted to be included in it after learning that her alleged gang-rape would be central to the narrative.
“When Sabrina told me my experience was going to be the focal point in the article, I was uncomfortable with that,” Jackie said. “I was feeling scared and overwhelmed and unsure of what to do.”
At times in Jackie’s recorded testimony, she contradicted her own story. Jackie at one point said that she believed the Rolling Stone article was not entirely accurate and that “I feel like my interpretation was different than what was written.” She said she remembered reading the story and “thinking I probably would not have written it that way.”
She later said that the portrayal of her alleged assault in Rolling Stone was correct.
“I stand by the account I gave Rolling Stone and I believed it to be true at the time,” Jackie said. When asked if she still believed it was true, she said: “I believed it was true but some details of my assault — I have PTSD and it’s foggy.”
When speaking with The Post in 2014, Jackie provided thorough details about the setting, scene and circumstances of her alleged assault. But in her recorded deposition, provided under oath, Jackie chose her words carefully and spoke deliberately. On multiple occasions she said in the recorded testimony that she no longer remembers aspects of her attack, its aftermath and conversations she had with Erdely and the magazine’s fact checker.
In the testimony played to the court, Jackie spoke in measured tones and did not address the veracity of her claims of being gang-raped. The court has not released her full name or shown jurors her image. The Post generally does not identify people who say they were sexually assaulted and has an agreement with Jackie not to identify her by her full name; though her narrative has been debunked, Jackie has maintained that she was sexually assaulted.
When confronted in the deposition about allegedly concocting evidence about her allegations — such as fabricating text messages from other women who she said also had been sexually assaulted at the same fraternity — she wouldn’t deny it.
“I just don’t remember any of this,” Jackie said. “It’s all very foggy. I don’t know. I don’t know.”
She was asked about a specific detail described in Rolling Stone: “Did you tell Ms. Erdely that you left the Phi Kappa Psi house at 3 a.m. splattered in blood?”
Jackie replied: “I don’t remember.”
The account of Jackie’s rape included the detail that she had been attacked on broken glass. Three of Jackie’s friends who met up with her that night told The Post that Jackie did not appear to have visible injuries at the time, one of several discrepancies with the published account.
Jackie also testified that she had messaged friends asking them not to reveal the name of her ringleader of the alleged assault, comparing Erdely’s efforts to determine his identity to a “witch hunt.”
Jackie said that she expressed doubts about the story ahead of its publication. In a meeting with Erdely, Jackie told the journalist that she cared deeply about Eramo and worried that her “job security” would be at stake after the article was published.
She told friends that Erdely had misrepresented her in the article and “skewed” some of her quotes out of context. She also stopped talking to the journalist for two weeks as the article neared publication.
“I felt like I was getting pressured from a lot of different people to do something I did not want to do,” Jackie said.
Jackie also went to U-Va. administrators before the article was published to express concerns because she believed it would include “some unflattering facts or unflattering facets of Dean Eramo and I wanted to change that,” Jackie said in the recording. “So many students would be lost without her.”
The article portrayed Eramo and the university’s administration as indifferent to reports of sexual assault, something that Eramo has said denigrated her life’s work, drew hate mail and threats, and affected her career.
In the recording, Jackie said that she “felt bad” about the way Eramo, friends and others were portrayed as callous in the article.
“I wouldn’t use the word indifferent at all,” Jackie said. “I believe she cared very much.”
Yet Jackie testified that she believed Erdely “had done her best to recount what I’d told her.”
In the days after the magazine story was published, it quickly became an Internet sensation, attracting millions of readers to the Rolling Stone website. After the article went online, Jackie wrote messages to friends saying that she believed the magazine had misrepresented her account of what had happened.
“I felt like everything was out of control,” Jackie said.
The article was retracted after a Charlottesville police investigation and a probe by the Columbia Journalism School found significant inconsistencies. Police concluded that the assault described in Rolling Stone did not occur.
“Jackie’s’ testimony and the testimony over the last several days have shown that neither Sabrina Rubin Erdely nor Rolling Stone published statements about Eramo with actual malice, the burden Plaintiff must meet to support her lawsuit,” Rolling Stone said in a statement after court had adjourned.