CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Reuters) - The subject of a Rolling Stone article on a gang rape at the University of Virginia that the magazine retracted after investigators found no evidence the attack occurred, testified on Monday she believed she had told the reporter the truth.
The woman, identified only as “Jackie,” gave a videotaped deposition for a civil lawsuit filed by a former associate dean of students at the school who has sued Rolling Stone for $7.9 million, claiming defamation.
“I stand by what I told Rolling Stone. I believed it to be true at the time,” the woman said in a recording played to the jury at U.S. District Court in Charlottesville on Monday.
When pushed by attorneys to provide specific details, she responded: “I have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). I don’t remember a lot of what happened at that time.”
The 2014 article, “A Rape on Campus,” prompted a national debate about sexual assaults on college campuses and the role of fraternities. But subsequent investigations by police and the magazine determined the attack depicted never took place, and Rolling Stone withdrew the article.
The plaintiff, Nicole Eramo, contends the article painted her as a villain and has hurt her employment prospects. She now works in an administrative role at the school.
The trial will hinge on whether Rolling Stone believed Jackie’s story when it published the article.
Jackie testified she had been uncomfortable about the article, but added: “I felt overwhelmed and stressed and scared. I was getting pressure from a lot of people to do something.”
She testified that when she first spoke with reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely, she thought the article was going to be about survivor support for sexual assault victims on college campuses.
Instead, the focal point of the article became her own account of being raped by seven men at a fraternity party in 2012, when she was a freshman.
She said she was under the impression the details of her story were never going to be published.
Rolling Stone said in a statement that testimony by Jackie and others showed that neither Erdely nor Rolling Stone had written about Eramo “with actual malice, the burden plaintiff must meet to support her lawsuit.”
To prove defamation under U.S. libel laws, it must be shown that a media organization deliberately published information it knew to be untrue with the intent of damaging the subject’s reputation.
Sex assaults remain a major concern on U.S. college campuses. Some reports estimate that one in five female students will be a victim of sexual assault during their college years.
Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney