University of Virginia official sues Rolling Stone magazine over rape story

An exterior view of the University of Virginia's Garrett Hall in Charlottesville, Virginia on Mar 26. -- PHOTO: AFP
An exterior view of the University of Virginia's Garrett Hall in Charlottesville, Virginia on Mar 26. -- PHOTO: AFP

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia (Reuters) - A University of Virginia administrator filed a US$7.85 million (S$10.49 million) libel lawsuit against Rolling Stone magazine, its parent company and a reporter on Tuesday over a now-debunked story of a gang rape on the US campus.

The lawsuit charged that Nicole Eramo, associate dean of students and top administrator in dealing with sexual assaults, was defamed by Rolling Stone, Wenner Media and reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely in the November 2014 article about an alleged 2012 gang rape at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.

The article, A Rape On Campus, sparked a national debate about sexual violence at U.S. colleges.

Rolling Stone apologised in December for "discrepancies" in the account and admitted it never sought comment from seven men accused of the alleged rape.

A review by the Columbia University journalism school commissioned by Rolling Stone and released in April cited the magazine for reporting and editing lapses.

The lawsuit, filed in state Circuit Court in Charlottesville, Virginia, said Rolling Stone, Wenner Media and Erdely aimed to depict the University of Virginia as indifferent to rape on campus.

"To personify the university's alleged institutional indifference to rape, Erdely and Rolling Stone cast Dean Eramo, who met with and counselled Jackie (the alleged rape victim), as the chief villain of the story," it said.

They falsely claimed that Eramo tried to persuade Jackie not to report the rape and that she was indifferent to her allegations, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit filed by attorney Tom Clare of Alexandria, Virginia, seeks at least US$7.5 million in compensatory damages and US$350,000 in punitive damages.

Elizabeth McNamara, an attorney with New York's Davis Wright Tremaine LLP representing Rolling Stone, declined to comment.

Phi Kappa Psi fraternity said in April it planned to sue. The suit has not been filed, and a spokesman was not available to comment.

Rolling Stone is owned by Jann Wenner, who founded it in 1967 as a counterculture-oriented magazine. A Charlottesville police investigation found no evidence that Jackie had been gang-raped.

The magazine has said it would commit itself to recommendations made in the Columbia review, and Erdely has apologised.

Legal experts have said a lawsuit by the university itself was unlikely since a government entity cannot sue for defamation.

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