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'Rolling Stone' 'Blurred The Lines' In Its Campus Rape Story


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. A bombshell story in Rolling Stone magazine last month put the University of Virginia under scrutiny for its handling of campus sexual assault cases. The emotional core of that story was a gang rape, a claim that a woman identified only as Jackie was assaulted by seven men at a fraternity party. Then last week, another bombshell - Rolling Stone backed away from its reporting. The managing editor wrote a statement saying the magazine has concerns about the piece and that there, quote, "now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie's account."

Last month, NPR spoke with Emily Renda. She handles sexual misconduct response and prevention at the University of Virginia. She's also a graduate of the school and herself a victim of sexual assault. We've called her again to get her take on this latest development.

Emily, first we should say you know the victim, the woman identified as Jackie. She told you this story when you were with a campus support group. Now, Rolling Stone has said that their trust in her was misplaced. And I'm quoting there. Do you doubt her story?

EMILY RENDA: No, I don't. I think that there are some larger complexities at play here. There's a lot of good research, you know, citing Dr. David Lisak and Dr. Rebecca Campbell that suggest that traumatic memories are stored differently in the brain. And so as a result, they're brought out by the brain different as well. So through none of this process have I ever disbelieved Jackie. Have I believed that details may change shape over time because of the nature of trauma? Absolutely.

MARTIN: Have you spoken to her - Jackie - since the news broke?

RENDA: I have. You know, I never feel entirely comfortable speaking on somebody else's behalf. But I'll say that this is very overwhelming. And I know that even just personally as a survivor, I knew that when people questioned me, that was pretty traumatic. And so I can't imagine what it's like to have the national news media outlet that you trusted for months, who attempted to convince you to stay in the story on multiple occasions, all of a sudden turn its back on you and kind of take the entire country down a road of doubting you. That's got to be incredibly traumatic.

MARTIN: Did it strike you that the piece did not include any response from the alleged perpetrators?

RENDA: I, you know, stood by Jackie's decisions about not wanting to name her perpetrator or any of her perpetrators. And, you know, frankly that's very common for victims of trauma to be very, very reluctant to do so. But now in retrospect, I really wish that Rolling Stone had done their due diligence because now, on the backend, Jackie is suffering. The men at the fraternity are suffering and, frankly, the credibility of survivors everywhere is suffering.

MARTIN: So what happens now? I mean, has this story made it harder for victims?

RENDA: I think inevitably, in some ways, it definitely will. It will confirm the age-old rape myth that women lie about being raped. And it, you know, inevitably will also make it harder for male survivors to come forward as well. But I am heartened by the response I see coming from students on campus that say, you know, hold up the second. We do know something about trauma and the way that survivors' stories are told. And that this is not her fault for the way that something was reported as truth and fact against her wishes in some ways.

We can't let this get in the way of good progress. We need to continue to keep the roles of advocate, investigator and adjudicator very separate. Rolling Stone really blurred the line between those three things. And that's what's done so much damage to Jackie, to the fraternity and really ultimately, and very importantly, survivors everywhere.

MARTIN: Emily Renda handles sexual misconduct response and prevention at the University of Virginia. Thanks so much for talking with us.

RENDA: Thank you.

MARTIN: An editorial note now. After our conversation with Emily Renda, NPR and other media outlets discovered that Rolling Stone has amended its original note to readers. They removed the line in which they said their trust in Jackie was misplaced. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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