It's been more than a week since Rolling Stone first acknowledged that there were problems with its cover story about a shocking gang rape at a fraternity on a University of Virginia campus, after other publications questioned aspects of the central account.
Over the weekend, even more doubts were aired, as the three friends of "Jackie," as the assault survivor in the story was identified, came forward publicly to give their versions of the night.
In the time since the story was published, it sparked a decision by the university's president to temporarily suspend all campus fraternities, ignited new conversation about the issue of campus sexual assault and institutions' lack of response, and then, as the article and the account it detailed came into question, launched a new conversation about both journalistic ethics and what lasting effect the debacle might have on peoples' willingness to believe rape victims or rape victims' willingness to come forward.
The bigger questions of how the Rolling Stone story, and the magazine's handling of it, might affect the sexual-assault debate are still being determined, and many activists are working hard to ensure that the severity of the problem isn't being forgotten amid questions about one person's account. At the same time, a new report from the US Bureau of Justice Statistics released last week called into question some of the oft-cited statistics about the prevalence of campus rape and sexual assault, and also showed that about 80 percent of such attacks – significantly more than for the general population – go unreported.
As the national conversation continues about how best to address the problem of sexual assault, both on campus and off, and encourage women who have been victims to come forward, here is what is currently known about the particular incident at the center of the Rolling Stone story:
The three friends of Jackie, who Sabrina Rubin Erdely referred to in her article as "Andy," "Cindy," and "Randall," and who Ms. Erdely described as discouraging Jackie from going to the police when she met them after her rape, have now come forward and spoken publicly with The Washington Post, the Associated Press, and several TV stations.
"We realized it was something we could do without too much risk to ourselves to get the message out there, because people really want to know what happened to Jackie,” Alex Stock, the student previously identified as Andy, told The Washington Post.
In Erdely's article, she said that Jackie met her three friends when she called them minutes after leaving the fraternity, beaten up and with blood on her dress, after suffering a brutal gang rape by seven men. When one of her friends suggested taking Jackie to the hospital, Erdely wrote, the other two discouraged it, debating "the social price of reporting Jackie's rape," with Cindy – now identified as Kathryn Hendley, arguing that "she's going to be the girl who cried 'rape' " and none of them would be allowed into frat parties.
It was a shocking detail in a shocking story and, according to the three friends, not remotely true. "I couldn't help but notice that everything that the article said about me was incorrect," Ryan Duffin, identified as Randall in the story, told the AP.
The three friends, none of whom were contacted by Erdely before the article was published, agree that they met Jackie about 20 minutes away from the frat house, and that she seemed distraught. Far from saying the awful quote attributed to her in the Rolling Stone article, Ms. Hendley says, she actually wasn't part of the conversation, at Jackie's request; she watched from a distance while Jackie talked to the other two.
Mr. Duffin and Mr. Stock both say that Jackie then told them that she had been forced to perform oral sex on five men at the fraternity party. Duffin said he then tried to convince her to go to the police, and actually started dialing 911 on his phone, before Jackie stopped him. Stock corroborated his account.
Duffin told the AP that he no longer knows what he believes happened that night – but he also is worried that too much focus on Jackie's alleged story, or the misreporting, will take away from attention to the broader issue.
"If anything, the takeaway from all this is that I still don't really care if what's presented in this article is true or not because I think it's far more important that people focus on the issue of sexual assault as a whole," Duffin said.
Other aspects of Jackie's story also have been called into question, with the Phi Psi fraternity emphasizing that it had no social function on the weekend in question, that it doesn't conduct rush in the fall (the rape in the story was purported to be part of a hazing ritual), and that none of its members had worked at the UVA aquatic center where Jackie said they both worked that fall. Rolling Stone has said that Jackie is now uncertain whether the man, "Drew," who lured her into the room where she said the rape occurred was actually a Phi Psi member. And the three friends of Jackie who have gone public all have said that Erdely has now reached out to them and told them she is re-reporting the story.
Meanwhile, on Sunday another UVA student and rape survivor who was interviewed by Erdely went on CNN to discuss her experience with the reporter.
Alex Pinkleton, a friend of Jackie's who told CNN she "definitely believe[s] something traumatic happened to [Jackie] that night" said she thought Erdely "had an agenda," and blamed what she considers the reporter's unwillingness to fact check with the debacle that emerged subsequent to publication.
When she interviewed Ms. Pinkleton about her own rape experience, Pinkleton said, Erdely kept looking for the most sensational story. "When she asked about my own assault, she kept asking, 'Did he feed you the drinks? Was he keeping tabs of the drinks that night?' " Pinkleton told CNN. "And he wasn't and that's something that I had to keep saying over and over again, and I think – I felt like she wasn't satisfied with my perpetrator as someone who wasn't clearly monstrous."
"I think she had her heart in the right place," Pinkleton said of Erdely, but went on to say that her insistence on having a shocking enough story had a poor outcome with regards to attention to the bigger issue. "I think that she should have fact checked and I'm really upset and angry like a lot of people are that that didn't happen and now we're in a very difficult situation."