A University of Virginia dean sued Rolling Stone magazine and journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely on Tuesday, claiming the now-discredited article "A Rape on Campus" portrayed her as "the chief villain of the story."
Nicole Eramo, the dean of students responsible for dealing with reports of sexual assault at UVA, is seeking $7.5 million in damages from Rolling Stone and the article's author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely. Eramo said the article damaged her reputation.
"Rolling Stone and Erdely's highly defamatory and false statements about Dean Eramo were not the result of an innocent mistake. They were the result of a wanton journalist who was more concerned with writing an article that fulfilled her preconceived narrative about the victimization of women on American college campuses, and a malicious publisher who was more concerned about selling magazines to boost the economic bottom line for its faltering magazine, than they were about discovering the truth or actual facts," according to the lawsuit filed in Charlottesville Circuit Court Tuesday morning.
The story, published November 2014, claimed that a female student, identified only as Jackie, was gang raped by seven men at a fraternity house. Last month, Columbia University's Graduate School of journalism concluded its independent review of the magazine's editorial process and found that the article was "deeply flawed." Rolling Stone retracted the story following the Columbia report.
According to the lawsuit, the magazine article stated that Eramo intentionally tried to coddle Jackie to persuade her not to report her rape and that Eramo was indifferent to Jackie's allegations. The story also wrote that Eramo claimed that UVA withholds rape statistics "because nobody wants to send their daughter to the rape school."
"The purpose in publishing the article was to weave a narrative that depicted the University of Virginia as an institution that is indifferent to rape on campus, and more concerned with protecting its reputation than with assisting victims of sexual assault," the lawsuit reads.
Eramo claims Rolling Stone doctored a photo of her with intent to portray her "in a highly negative manner."
The altered image gives the appearance of Eramo "sitting at her desk, sneering while a sexual assault victim sits crying in front of her. In the doctored image, photoshopped images of protestors appear outside of Dean Eramo's office with sings that read "stop victim blaming."
The original, unedited photo, which Rolling Stone bought from the Cavalier Daily, UVA's independent student newspaper, shows Eramo speaking to students in a classroom.
"Although Rolling Stone purchased the photograph for commercial use, it did not tell the Cavalier Daily that it intended to alter the picture in any way," according to the lawsuit.
The edited version cropped out Eramo's right arm, which was making a welcome gesture, the lawsuit states. The whites of Eramo's eyes were edited to "depict her expression as "wild-eyed" in the image."
"A simple comparison of the original photograph and Rolling Stone's manipulated version of the image demonstrates the lengths Erdely and Rolling Stone were willing to go to portray Dean Eramo as a villain," the lawsuit reads.
Eramo claims that as the article gained national attention, she lost sleep, had difficulty eating and experienced emotional distress. The lawsuit also claims that due to her stress, Eramo suffered complications after a surgery to treat recurring case of breast cancer.
The fraternity depicted in the story, Phi Kappa Psi, announced plans to file a lawsuit against Rolling Stone but has yet to do so.
Read the full complaint:
Mary Ann Georgantopoulos is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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