The University of Virginia fraternity at the center of a now-retracted story of gang rape published in Rolling Stone is suing the magazine for defamation.
UVA's Phi Kappa Psi chapter announced Monday that it is seeking more than $25 million in compensation for the article, which they said caused "extreme" damage to the reputations of students and alumni.
"Innocent brothers were besieged in their residence, physically threatened, protested against and vilified by unknown assailants, fellow students and the university community," the fraternity said in a statement. "Impacts of the article were felt well beyond the University of Virginia and Charlottesville."
The article, "A Rape on Campus," was published in December 2014 and told the story of a UVA student named Jackie as part of an examination of college sexual assault. Jackie told writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely she had been raped by several members of Phi Kappa Psi at the fraternity house in 2012 during a party.
The story sparked protests on campus, and fraternity and sorority activities were shut down. But police later said there was no evidence to support Jackie's account, and the fraternity also pointed out a number of discrepancies. Following an independent investigation, Rolling Stone retracted the article.
“We would like to apologize to our readers and to all of those who were damaged by our story and the ensuing fallout, including members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and UVA administrators and students,” managing editor Will Dana said in a statement in April. “Sexual assault is a serious problem on college campuses, and it is important that rape victims feel comfortable stepping forward. It saddens us to think that their willingness to do so might be diminished by our failings.”
Following the story's publication, people "denounced all Phi Kappa Psi brothers as rapists, pigs, and less than human," the lawsuit reads. The fraternity members received threatening messages on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
A UVA dean who alleged that she was unfairly portrayed as a villain in the story filed a separate suit in May.
In the latest lawsuit, UVA alleges that Rolling Stone and Erdely deliberately ignored facts to support a preconceived notion about campus sexual assault.
"For a time, 'A Rape on Campus' was the biggest news story in America," the fraternity said. "The chapter and its members became the symbol for rape on college campuses."
The story not only harmed current fraternity brothers, but also 800 alumni and their families, the fraternity said. It also jeopardized the future of the chapter, the fraternity noted.
Representatives for Rolling Stone declined to comment.
Phi Kappa Psi added that sexual assault was a serious issue for colleges.
"Serious public discourse about sexual assault is not served, however, by the intentional publication of a lurid and horrific story that was entirely concocted," the fraternity said.
Claudia Koerner is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
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Mary Ann Georgantopoulos is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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