The National Organization for Women issued an open letter to University President Teresa Sullivan Jan. 6 asking that she help to stop the “re-victimization” of “Jackie.”
The letter came after Dean Nicole Eramo’s legal counsel requested the release of Jackie’s personal communications regarding the alleged sexual assault.
“Jackie” was the primary source for the Rolling Stone article released November 2014 which detailed an alleged violent gang rape at the University.
“Notwithstanding, Dean Eramo has demanded that ‘Jackie’ produce years of her most private, personal communications with her family, friends, even counselors,” NOW said in its letter, which was also published as a press release on their website. “This has not only threatened ‘Jackie’s’ dignity and privacy, but also the dignity and privacy of numerous other student survivors on your campus.”
NOW criticized Eramo for “victim blaming and shaming,” which they said maintains rape culture and hinders other victims of sexual assault who may be hesitant to come forward. They called the University’s Title IX efforts “meaningless” as long as Eramo continues to demand records from “Jackie.”
“We do not see how students who experience sexual assault at U.Va. will be able to trust University officials tasked with protecting them if this conduct is allowed to continue,” the letter read.
Eramo is represented by the Alexandria-based law firm Clare Locke, LLP. In response to the release of the letter, Eramo’s attorney Libby Locke said “Jackie” is the main source for the discredited article and there is a severe lack of evidence surrounding the story apart from her account.
“It appears that Jackie fabricated her perpetrator and the details of the alleged assault, and it appears that she did so to win the sympathy of a man in whom she was romantically interested,” Locke said. “Having freely discussed her supposed sexual assault with numerous media outlets, there is no basis in law or logic for Jackie to refuse to produce documents related to her participation in the Rolling Stone article.”
Locke also said she was dismayed that NOW — a group formed specifically to advocate for women — is choosing to stand behind “Jackie,” an individual who has “set the cause for survivor support back so far.”
Terry O’Neill, President of NOW, commented on the lawsuit in the context of the recent release of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) investigation into Title IX that revealed the University’s noncompliance between 2008 and 2012.
“They [the lawyers] eviscerate a young woman who suffered some kind of sexual trauma while a student at the University of Virginia,” O’Neill said. “They’ve decided to make her their piñata. And it’s just mind-blowing to me that the University of Virginia would think that it is somehow okay to do this.”
O’Neill described how this kind of “slut-shaming” as part of rape culture has no place in a defamation suit.
University Law Prof. Robert Turner wrote an article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch in December 2014 and followed up with the Cavalier Daily last January, urging members of the University community to sue Rolling Stone, considering it would not be difficult to prove their “disregard for the facts.”
Turner said “Jackie” has his sympathy if some kind of sexual assault had transpired, but if not, then she has defamed several individuals and hurt the sexual assault survivor community as a whole.
“If my understanding of the facts is accurate, then Rolling Stone and its writer did the entire University community a horrible wrong,” Turner said in an email. “But if they acted in good faith and were merely negligent for not trying to verify the accusations, their wrong (while very serious) is less than the person who have them the false information on which the story was based.”
“Jackie” should be given due process of law on this matter, but Eramo and others should also be allowed to pursue justice, Turner said.
“I'm disappointed in NOW, and trust President Sullivan (who I admire greatly) will not be moved by this appeal,” Turner said.
The University Communications Department declined to comment on this matter.