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U.Va., legislators react to Rolling Stone story

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Print this page by Veronica Garabelli
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A Rolling Stone article depicting a brutal rape on the University of Virginia campus more than two years ago could have a lasting effect on it and other state schools even though the magazine has backed away from the story since its publication.

In the Nov. 19 article, a U.Va. student identified as “Jackie” describes being gang raped in September 2012 by seven men at a fraternity house party and the university’s poor handling of the incident. Before the story ran, U.Va. had been named one of 86 schools being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education for sexual assault violations.

The story ignited protests on campus, a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault passed by the U.Va. Board of Visitors, a suspension of fraternal activities until Jan. 9 and plans by the Virginia General Assembly to address sexual violence on college campuses. The Charlottesville Police are investigating the alleged rape and the attorney general’s office has appointed an independent counsel to review the university’s handling of sexual assaults.

The article jolted a campus already in shock over the abduction and death of freshman Hannah Graham last fall. Her murder and the arrest of a Charlottesville man created national headlines.

In early December, Rolling Stone backtracked on the rape story, acknowledging discrepancies in its account after questions about its accuracy were raised by the fraternity (Phi Kappa Psi), The Washington Post and other publications. The magazine acknowledged the reporter failed to contact the men allegedly involved in the attack.

“We published the article with the firm belief that it was accurate,” says a statement from Rolling Stone Managing Editor Will Dana on its website. “Given all of these reports, however, we have come to the conclusion that we were mistaken in honoring Jackie’s request to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account.”

Nonetheless, U.Va. and state leaders appear committed to addressing sexual assaults at public universities. “We will continue to take a hard look at our practices, policies and procedures, and continue to dedicate ourselves to becoming a model institution in our educational programming, in the character of our student culture, and in our care for those who are victims,” said U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan, who appointed a committee to investigate the university’s campus culture and practices with the aim of creating a safer environment for students.

Del. Dave Albo, R-Springfield, says he still plans to file a bill in this year’s General Assembly session combatting violent crimes on campus. The bill, to be co-filed with fellow Republican Delegates Rob Bell and Todd Gilbert, would make it mandatory to report violent crimes against students to local law enforcement and the local Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office. “We believe that mandatory reporting is still needed even if the story turns out to be false,” Albo said in an email.




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