No evidence of gang-rape at University of Virginia

2015-03-24 09:36
The Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. (Steve Helber, AP)

The Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. (Steve Helber, AP)

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Charlottesville - A four-month police investigation into an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia that Rolling Stone magazine described in graphic detail produced no evidence of the attack and was stymied by the accuser's unwillingness to co-operate, authorities said on Monday.

The magazine article, titled "A rape on campus", sparked a national conversation about sexual assaults at American universities after it was published last November.

The article focused on a student identified only as "Jackie" who said she was raped at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity more than two years earlier. It described a hidden culture of sexual violence fuelled by binge drinking at the college. Police said they found no evidence of that either.

There were numerous discrepancies between the article, published in November 2014, and what investigators found, said Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo, took care not to accuse Jackie of lying.

The case is suspended, not closed, and the fact that investigators could not find evidence years later "doesn't mean that something terrible didn't happen to Jackie," Longo said.

He appealed for anyone with information about any sexual violence to immediately alert police, and expressed hope that Jackie may one day feel comfortable explaining what really happened.

"There's a difference between a false allegation and something that happened that may have been different than what was described in that article," Longo said.

'Sexual act'

Asked if Jackie would be charged with making a false report, he said: "Absolutely not."

Jackie's attorney, Palma Pustilnik, said she would have no comment on the investigation.

Accurate or not, the article heightened scrutiny of campus sexual assaults amid a campaign by President Barack Obama to end them.

The University of Virginia had already been on the Department of Education's list of 55 colleges under investigation for their handling of sex assault violations.

Longo said Jackie's first mention of an alleged assault came without key details, during a meeting she had with a dean about an academic issue in May 2013. The dean brought in police, but the case was dropped because Jackie didn't want them to investigate, Longo said.

In any case, the "sexual act" she described that year was "not consistent with what was described" in the Rolling Stone article.

Almost immediately, news organisations found discrepancies that prompted the magazine to print an apology.

University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan asked police to investigate, and they called Jackie in for another interview. She showed up with a lawyer and again refused to talk.

Rolling Stone eventually asked the dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism to review its editorial process and the piece by its contributing editor, Sabrina Rubin Erdely.

Distraught and bleeding

The magazine said on Monday that the review's results are "imminent" and would be published soon.

Investigators spoke to about 70 people, including friends of the accuser and fraternity members, and spent hundreds of hours on the investigation, Longo said.

None provided any evidence supporting the claim of a gang rape at the Phi Kappa Psi house. They gathered ample evidence casting doubt on Jackie's claims, he said.

The article described Jackie's recollection of a date she had on 28 September 2012 with a classmate, who she said lured her upstairs at his fraternity house, where she was raped by seven fraternity brothers and thrown through a glass table.

Distraught and bleeding, Jackie told three friends that night about the assault, and two of them urged her to stay silent to avoid becoming a social outcast, the article said.

In interviews with The Associated Press, however, the same friends said the opposite was true: They said they insisted Jackie contact police, but she refused.

The friends said the article didn't match what Jackie had told them that night, and that she didn't appear physically injured at the time.

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