CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia — Three friends of an alleged victim of gang rape at the University of Virginia say a magazine article wrongly portrayed them as uncaring students who were more concerned about their reputations than her well-being.
The friends told The Associated Press that the Rolling Stone article, which was retracted soon after its publication, was wrong on a number of key points, especially its assertion that they urged the victim to not report the attack.
Their alleged indifference was woven into a narrative that used the alleged attack to paint a picture of a culture of sexual violence on college campuses in the United States. The article set off an intense debate about how universities handle sexual assault as well as how media outlets handle such allegations.
One of the friends, a 20-year-old, third-year student referred to as “Randall” in the Rolling Stone article but whose real name is Ryan Duffin, told the AP that not only did he encourage the alleged victim to go to police, but he started to dial police on his phone until she said she just wanted to go back to her dorm and go to sleep.
The AP also spoke with the other two friends portrayed in the article: third-year, 20-year-old students Kathryn Hendley and Alex Stock, known as “Cindy” and “Andy” in the article. None of the three friends was contacted by Rolling Stone’s reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, before the article was published; each of them rejected multiple assertions made in the article.
All three say Erdely has since reached out to them, and that she has told them she is re-reporting the story. Hendley told the AP Erdely apologized to her for portraying her the way she did.
Erdely and Rolling Stone Managing Editor Will Dana did not respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment.
The three friends say they continue to work on correcting the record about what happened that night, and at least one, Duffin, wonders to what extent he believes the victim’s own version of what happened — or whether any discrepancies in her story matter.
Other news media have also interviewed the friends, but this is the first time that Duffin has allowed his full name to be used.
A lawyer representing the victim, who has been identified only as “Jackie,” has declined several requests by the AP to interview Jackie and did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this article; the AP does not typically name alleged victims of sexual assault.
The Rolling Stone article, published last month, has roiled the University of Virginia and caused a huge backlash, with it suspending activities at so-called Greek social houses until January, the Board of Visitors appointing an independent investigator to look into the allegations and the university handing the case over to police.
The main focus of the piece is an alleged gang rape that Jackie said happened on Sept. 28, 2012, during her first semester on campus. In the article, she said she had gone out on a date with a classmate named “Drew,” who later that night lured her into a secluded room at a fraternity house. Once inside the room, she said, she was raped by a group of seven fraternity brothers while her date and one other man watched.
As described in the Rolling Stone article, a distraught Jackie met her three friends at a picnic table about a 20-minute walk from the house and tearfully told them what had happened.
While the article said Duffin suggested they take her to the hospital, it described Stock and Hendley as carrying on a debate about what would happen to her reputation and theirs should word get out.
“Detached, Jackie listened as Cindy prevailed over the group: ‘She’s gonna be the girl who cried rape, and we’ll never be allowed into any frat party again,’” it said.
However, Hendley told the AP that not only did she not say any of that, she had arrived with Stock to the picnic table only to have Jackie say she didn’t want her to be part of the conversation. She said she watched from afar while Stock and Duffin talked with Jackie.
Stock confirmed this account.
As described by Duffin to the AP, this is what happened: He had returned home from a party when he got a call from Jackie. He left to meet her and she was sitting on the top of a picnic table outside a dorm. She was shaking and “it looked like she had been crying,” Duffin said. “Her lip was quivering, her eyes were darting around. And right then, I put two and two together. I knew she had been on this date and people don’t usually look like that after a date.”
Jackie eventually told Duffin and Stock her version of what happened that night: that she was forced to perform oral sex on five men at the fraternity house.
“My first reaction was, ‘We need to go to police,’” he said. “I wanted to go to police immediately. I was really forceful on that, actually. And I almost took it to calling (the police) right there.” He said he had his phone out, “but she didn’t want to and,” he remembers thinking, “‘I can’t do that if she doesn’t want to do it.’”
Stock corroborated this version of events.
A previous version of this story incorrectly reported what Jackie told the friends. The friends say she told them she was forced to perform oral sex on five men at the fraternity.
A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the location of the picnic table where the friends say Jackie told them her story. The table is about a 20-minute walk from the fraternity.