A University of Virginia fraternity will not pursue an honor code violation against a student who told Rolling Stone for a story that has since been retracted that several brothers gang-raped her during a party, a spokesman said.
Virginia has the oldest student-run honor code in the country, which prohibits lying, cheating and stealing. Those who are found guilty of violations by a panel of students are faced with a single penalty: expulsion.
Rolling Stone based much of its November article on the account of a person identified only as “Jackie,” a U.Va. student who said she suffered a brutal sexual assault at the hands of seven men at the Phi Kappa Psi house at a party her first year at the school in 2012.
Phi Kappa Psi has said it is exploring legal action against Rolling Stone, but not against Jackie.
“From the fraternity’s perspective, this is about reckless reporting, careless editing, poor fact-checking and a negligent legal review,” fraternity spokesman Brian Ellis wrote in an email to The Associated Press.
Following the story’s publication, Charlottesville police investigated the claims at the university’s request. Police said that there was no evidence an assault occurred at Phi Kappa Psi, that there was a party the night of the alleged assault or that the person Jackie said was her date was a member of the fraternity.
Police have said no charges are pending against Jackie, who never filed a police report and refused to answer investigators’ questions. Following the article’s publication, the magazine acknowledged mistakes were made and that too much trust was placed in Jackie. The story was eventually retracted.
An investigation by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism cited numerous failures by the reporter and the magazine’s editors. The reporter interviewed Jackie eight times and a fact-checker spent four hours on the phone, with both finding the story plausible. However, the review found numerous holes in her story that should have been checked more closely.
Any student or faculty member could bring an honor code complaint against Jackie, and the school’s honor committee regularly works to get students to bring forward more complaints. So far, no one has brought such a complaint publicly against Jackie.
The honor code complaint system is a confidential process unless the accused student chooses to make it public. It’s not known whether Jackie is still enrolled at the university because her attorney has declined to comment.
At U.Va., the definition of lying entails “the misrepresentation of one or more facts in order to gain a benefit or harm another person, where the actor knows or should know that the misrepresentation will be relied upon by another person.”
If investigators look into an honor code case and choose not to dismiss it, a panel of randomly selected students, honor committee members or a mix of both will decide the outcome in a procedure similar to a court trial. A simple majority is needed to convict.
Brock Vergakis can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis
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