CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — The woman who claimed she was brutally gang raped in a story by Rolling Stone magazine that was later retracted said in a video played in court that she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, which makes it difficult to recall the details of her assault and the years that followed.
The woman identified only as “Jackie” in the 2014 story “A Rape on Campus” repeatedly answered “I don’t know” or “I can’t remember” when pressed by attorneys to discuss what she told Rolling Stone about her alleged sexual assault two years prior.
“There have always been certain things I can’t remember and some things that I think I remember that I don’t know if I remember,” Jackie said in the video, which was shown only to jurors Monday. The news media and the public were able to listen, but could not see the video.
Jackie’s deposition came as jurors returned to court for the second week of the defamation trial against the magazine over its article written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely. University of Virginia administrator Nicole Eramo is seeking $7.5 million from the magazine, saying she was cast as the story’s “chief villain.” A police investigation later found no evidence to back up Jackie’s claims.
When asked by an attorney if she stands by her account, Jackie responded: “I stand by the account I gave to Rolling Stone. I believed it to be true at the time.” Tom Clare, an attorney for Eramo pressed Jackie to explain why she told Eramo she was forced to perform oral sex on several men while she told Rolling Stone she was gang raped at Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house.
“My comfort level was different and I don’t remember exactly what I told Dean Eramo or Rolling Stone,” Jackie said.
Jackie said she felt pressured to participate in the story and became scared in the weeks leading up its publication when she realized it may be too late to back out.
She said when she initially agreed to talk to Erdely, she was under the impression that the article was going to be about sexual assault advocacy, not her rape. Jackie said she didn’t even realize that her comments during her first conversation with Erdely would be published.
“I was 20 years old and had no idea there was an off-the-record or an on-the-record,” Jackie said. “I was naive.”
Jackie said she remembered “feeling upset” when she found out her story was going to be the central focus and was concerned that Rolling Stone was going to paint Eramo in a negative light. A few weeks before publication, a friend of Jackie’s expressed Jackie’s concerns to Erdely in a text message, but Erdely responded “there’s no pulling the plug at this point — the article is moving forward.”
“I remember feeling scared and overwhelmed and unsure of what to do,” Jackie said. She added: “I felt like I was getting a lot of pressure from a lot of people to do things I didn’t want do.”
Erdely has testified that she would have allowed Jackie to back out of the article if that’s what she wanted and was prepared to use another woman as the central story in the piece if necessary. Erdely said Monday that when she texted Jackie’s friend to say there “no pulling the plug,” she meant the article about the university was moving forward, not that Jackie couldn’t back out if she wanted to.
Eramo and Erdely both took notes as they watched Jackie’s video. Erdely began crying when an attorney read a text message Jackie had sent her friend before the article was published urging her not to talk to Erdely because the reporter was on a “witch hunt” to interview the man Jackie claimed had attacked her and it was a “disaster.”
In another text message sent after the article was published and read by attorneys Monday, Jackie said Erdely “never even fact checked things about that night with me.”
The trial, which began last Monday, is expected to last about 12 days. Eramo was initially asking for $7.85 million, but recently withdrew her request for $350,000 in punitive damages. Her attorneys have to prove Erdely and Rolling Stone acted with “actual malice,” meaning they knew what they were writing about Eramo was false or should have known it wasn’t true.
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