Earlier this year, the U.S Department of Education released the names of 55 colleges and universities facing investigations under Title IX. This amendment protects those participating in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance from discrimination based on sex. The list of academic institutions, which included such prestigious institutions as Harvard and Princeton, started a dialogue about how sexual assault allegations are handled (and not handled) on college campuses.

Rolling Stone’s contributing editor and award-winning journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely recently became an avid participant in this dialogue when she published an article detailing a young woman’s horrific account of alleged sexual violence at the University of Virginia during her freshman year. Referred to as Jackie, the alleged victim attended a party at the fraternity house of a Phi Kappa Psi brother who invited her upstairs to a bedroom where seven men proceeded to take turns brutally raping her for three hours. The article includes graphic descriptions of the incident and a disturbing look at what it signifies about campus culture at not only UVA, but at universities all across the country. Erdely recently phoned in to The Michael Smerconish Program to discuss Jackie’s story and the scrutiny that it faced way before it made the pages of Rolling Stone.

“I discovered a young woman named Jackie who is now a junior, and she told me just a few weeks into her freshman year she had been brutally gang raped at a fraternity and that she had gone to the university to report this gang rape, and the university did nothing with this information,” Erdely said. “It took her a long time to even tell her own mother … What was really shocking was the reaction that Jackie got from her fellow students when she confided in them. She called some friends for help immediately after the attack, and they told her not to report her rape because they told her that she was going to be black-balled from the social scene for the next four years.”

Unfortunately, Jackie’s allegations of sexual assault are only one of many sets that have surfaced at UVA. Erdely even went on to say that other women have come forward, claiming to have been gang raped at the same fraternity.

“Everything about this attack is so shocking, including the fact that the way she describes it makes it sound like it is a pre-planned attack,” Erdely said. “As [Jackie’s] network of rape survivors became wider, she actually wound up coming to the administration with reports of two other women who told her they were also gang raped at the same fraternity.”

Though Erdely stands by Jackie’s story’s credibility, she did mention being shocked by a response from Dean Nicole Eramo, to whom Jackie first reported her alleged rape. According to Erdely, UVA would not make Dean Eramo available for comment on the article. According to Jackie’s story, Dean Eramo claimed all of the boys involved in the alleged gang rape had graduated. However, Jackie herself claimed to have recently seen one of the boys involved on campus when Dean Eramo made this statement.

“It was a strange thing for the dean to have said to Jackie because, as Jackie’s friend noted, she said, ‘Well, doesn’t that mean that Phi Psi is making some kind of admission that something happened?'” Erdely said. “The whole response was very strange, and it was all very consistent with the way that UVA has handled this whole case, which is to try to keep it as quiet as possible.”

Erdely told Smerconish she recognizes her limitations as a journalist covering such a serious issue. Credible sources are paramount, especially in tackling a topic where the whistle blower is often scrutinized more closely than the reason behind the blast.

“At the end of the day, I wasn’t in that room. So I can’t really know what happened,” Erdely said. “But everything about Jackie is entirely credible. I put her story through the ringer. I talked to all of her friends and people she confided in along the way … She has clearly been through a tremendous trauma, and I don’t doubt that something happened to her that night.”

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