CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Three friends of an alleged victim of a gang rape at a University of Virginia frat house told The Associated Press that a magazine article that used the woman's attack to paint a picture of a culture of sexual violence on college campuses was wrong on a number of key points: most important that they didn't encourage her to report the attack and that they were more concerned about their reputations than her well-being.
One of the friends, a 20-year-old, third-year student referred to as "Randall" in the Rolling Stone article but whose real name is Ryan Duffin, told the AP that not only did he encourage the alleged victim to go to police, but he started to dial 9-1-1 on his cellphone until she begged off saying she just wanted to go back to her dorm and go to sleep.
"I couldn't help but notice that everything that the article said about me was incorrect," Duffin said.
The Rolling Stone article set off an intense debate about sexual violence, alcohol, fraternities, and journalism ethics.
The Associated Press also spoke with the other two friends portrayed in the article: third-year, 20-year-old U.Va. students Kathryn Hendley and Alex Stock, known as "Cindy" and "Andy" in the article. None of the three friends was contacted by the Rolling Stone's reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, before the article was published; each of them rejected multiple assertions made in the article, which has since been retracted.
All three say Erdely has since reached out to them, and Hendley told the AP Erdely apologized to her for portraying her the way she did.
The three friends say they continue to work on correcting the record about what happened that night, and at least one, Duffin, wonders to what extent he believes the victim's own version of what happened — or whether any discrepancies in her story matter.
"People at U.Va. want answers just as much as I do," Duffin says. "But if anything, the takeaway from all this is that I still don't really care if what's presented in this article is true or not because I think it's far more important that people focus on the issue of sexual assault as a whole."
Other news media have also interviewed the friends but this is the first time each of them agreed to allow their full names to be used. A lawyer representing the victim, who has been identified only as "Jackie," has declined several requests by the AP to interview Jackie and did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this article; the AP does not typically name alleged victims of sexual assault.
The Rolling Stone article, published last month, described a culture of sexual violence hiding in plain sight at U.Va. The article has roiled the campus and caused a huge backlash, with U.Va. suspending fraternity activities until January, the Board of Visitors appointing an independent investigator to look into the allegations and the university handing the case over to the Charlottesville police.
The main focus of the piece is an alleged gang rape that Jackie said happened on Sept. 28, 2012, during her first semester on campus. In the article, she said she had gone out on a date with a classmate named "Drew," who later that night lured her into a secluded room at a frat house. Once inside the room, she said, she was raped by a group of seven fraternity brothers while her date and one other man watched.
As described in the Rolling Stone article, a distraught Jackie met her three friends at a picnic table in the shadows of the frat house and tearfully told them what had happened.
While the article said Duffin suggested they take her to the hospital, it described Stock and Hendley as carrying on a debate about what would happen to her reputation and theirs should word get out.
"The three friends launched into a heated discussion about the social price of reporting Jackie's rape, while Jackie stood beside them, mute in her bloody dress, wishing only to go back to her dorm room and fall into a deep, forgetful sleep," the article said. "Detached, Jackie listened as Cindy prevailed over the group: 'She's gonna be the girl who cried rape, and we'll never be allowed into any frat party again.'"
However, Hendley told the AP that not only did she not say any of that, she had arrived with Stock to the picnic table only to have Jackie say she didn't want her to be part of the conversation. She said she watched from afar while Stock and Duffin talked with Jackie.
Stock confirmed this account.
As described by Duffin to the AP, this is what happened: He had returned home from a party when he got a call from Jackie. He left to meet her and she was sitting on the top of a picnic table outside U.Va.'s Tuttle-Dunnington dorm. She was shaking and "it looked like she had been crying," Duffin said. "Her lip was quivering, her eyes were darting around. And right then, I put two and two together. I knew she had been on this date and people don't usually look like that after a date."
"That was the first thing that came to mind: 'Was she raped?' But I wasn't just going to come out and say it. Because, if you're wrong, it's a bad thing to be wrong about. If you're correct, then it seems insensitive; you need to wait for her to tell you."
Jackie eventually told Duffin her version of what she said had happened that night: that she was gang raped at a frat house.
"My first reaction was, 'We need to go to police,'" he said. "I wanted to go to police immediately. I was really forceful on that, actually. And I almost took it to calling (the police) right there." He said he had his phone out, prepared to call 9-1-1, "but she didn't want to and," he remembers thinking, "'I can't do that if she doesn't want to do it.'"
Stock corroborated this version of events.
"Jackie's response was, 'I don't want to,'" Stock said. "'I don't want to do that right now. I just want to go to bed.'"
Feeling hamstrung by Jackie's refusal to go to authorities, Duffin said that days later he sought advice from his dorm's resident assistant. Careful not to mention Jackie by name, so the RA wouldn't be obligated to contact police, he said he asked if he should call police even though Jackie didn't want him to. The RA told Duffin that he should encourage Jackie to talk with police, but that Duffin couldn't force her to do so.
The RA, who asked not to be named, confirmed Duffin's story to the AP.
The three friends these days aren't sure if they believe Jackie about the attack.
"Looking back" at the article and "seeing that (Jackie) just portrayed everybody, especially people I saw actively supporting her, as completely dismissive, it calls into question the entire response that's portrayed in the story," Stock said.