CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Reuters) - A jury of eight women and two men was chosen on Monday to hear a $7.9 million defamation lawsuit brought by a former University of Virginia official against Rolling Stone magazine over a debunked story that recounted an alleged gang rape on campus.
Nicole Eramo, a former associate dean of students at the school, filed the lawsuit seeking damages, contending that the 2014 article cast her as the “chief villain of the story,” which claimed that a freshman had been held down and raped by seven men during a fraternity party two years earlier.
The article, headlined “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA,” set off a firestorm of protests and debate about sexual assaults on college campuses, and triggered a national movement to curb them.
Police in Charlottesville launched an intensive investigation into the case, but found no evidence that the crimes described in the story had ever occurred.
Rolling Stone retracted the article in April 2015.
While the incident depicted in the story never occurred, sexual assaults remain a major concern on U.S. college campuses, with some reports estimating that one in five female students will be victims of sexual assault during their college years.
The former student at the centre of the allegations – known to the public only as “Jackie” – will testify via a video deposition, attorneys said.
In her lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Charlottesville, Eramo claimed that Rolling Stone falsely portrayed her as callous and indifferent to the allegations of gang rape.
Lawyers for Rolling Stone have argued that Eramo’s attorneys must prove that reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely and the magazine’s editors acted with “actual malice” - meaning reckless disregard for the truth - when they published the claims against Eramo.
In pre-trial hearings, U.S. District Court Judge Glen E. Conrad ruled that Eramo could be considered a “limited purpose public figure,” meaning she has to prove that Rolling Stone published the story with actual malice.
Rolling Stone lawyers have said that up until the magazine’s publication of an editor’s note about the story’s inconsistencies, it had full confidence in Jackie and the story.
Rolling Stone commissioned a review by Columbia University that criticized the publication for reporting and editing lapses.
Eramo is still employed at the University of Virginia but has said she works largely in an administrative role in the office of the vice president for student affairs.
Editing by Scott Malone and Mary Milliken