(Reuters) - Rolling Stone magazine on Friday apologized for its November article about an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity, saying that there were “discrepancies” about the accuser’s account.
The story created an uproar at the school and prompted renewed debate on campus sexual abuse. The fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, rebutted the Rolling Stone story on Friday.
The story, by reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely, described a 2012 alleged attack on a woman identified as “Jackie” at a Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house pledge party and the university’s alleged failure to respond to the attack.
In a note to readers posted on the magazine’s website, Rolling Stone Managing Editor Will Dana said new information showed that there were “discrepancies” in Jackie’s account of the alleged rape by seven men.
“We have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced,” Dana said in the note.
“We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story,” Dana said.
The accuser, whose real first name is Jackie, has not been otherwise identified by the magazine.
In a statement, the fraternity’s University of Virginia chapter said Phi Kappa Psi did not hold a party on the weekend of Sept. 28, 2012, the night of the alleged attack.
No members of the fraternity were employed at the university’s Aquatic and Fitness Center at the time, as reported by Rolling Stone, the statement said.
The magazine article said that Jackie had met one of her alleged attackers, who she said was a fraternity member, while they both worked as lifeguards at the university’s pool.
In another discrepancy, pledging and initiations take place only in the spring semester, not in the fall, the fraternity said in the statement.
“We have no knowledge of these alleged acts being committed at our house or by our members. Anyone who commits any form of sexual assault, wherever or whenever, should be identified and brought to justice,” the fraternity said.
Phi Kappa Psi said it was working with Charlottesville police as officers investigate allegations in the article. Charlottesville police spokesman Captain Gary Pleasants said the investigation was ongoing.
The university had no immediate comment on the Rolling Stone apology or the fraternity statement.
Rolling Stone’s Dana said that the magazine, at Jackie’s request, had not contacted “the man she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her.”
Dana said that the magazine had sought comment from both the local branch of the fraternity and the fraternity’s national leadership, but that “they responded that they couldn’t confirm or deny her story but had concerns about the evidence.”
Rolling Stone was founded in 1967 by Jann Wenner, who still owns and operates it, along with US Weekly and Men’s Journal.
The story, along with allegations of sexual abuse against comedian Bill Cosby, heightened the U.S. debate on sexual assault, especially on college campuses. The U.S. Department of Education is investigating sexual violence cases at 90 colleges and universities.
The Rolling Stone story prompted protests over sexual abuse at the school, and university President Teresa Sullivan suspended fraternity and sorority activities until Jan. 9. The university chapter of Phi Kappa Psi surrendered its fraternity agreement with the school and suspended activity.
Sullivan also announced stepped-up policing and alcohol measures in light of the article, and the school’s trustees held a special meeting to discuss it.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring appointed an independent investigator to examine the allegations and how the school handled the matter.
Asked about the impact of Rolling Stone’s apology, Scott Berkowitz, president of RAINN, a victim advocacy organization based in Washington, said false allegations of rape can cause the public and police to doubt the experiences of others who report sexual assaults.
“It is our hope that this will not deter victims from coming forward and reporting their assault,” Berkowitz said in a statement.
Additional reporting by Gary Robertson in Richmond, Virginia, and David Ingram in New York; Editing by Susan Heavey and Leslie Adler