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At University Of Virginia, Efforts Born Of Discredited Story Go On


When a Rolling Stone article on campus rape began to fall apart, activists immediately knew the real losers - everyone who's ever been a victim of sexual assault on campus.


Rolling Stone captured worldwide attention with its story of Jackie. She was a young woman who said she was attacked at a fraternity.

MONTAGNE: But the magazine never contacted the men she accused of attacking her, and the editor now admits the magazine never confirmed several details central to the story.

INSKEEP: And at the University of Virginia, it may be harder now to call attention to a genuine problem. NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: After weeks of national scrutiny since the article came out, few students yesterday wanted to speak with a reporter. Some exchanged wary glances, shook their heads, backed away. Adding to the stress of so much attention, this is finals week.

BRIAN HEAD: One final down, three to go.

LUDDEN: Brian Head is a fourth-year student who took time out to speak on the manicured lawn of the campus designed by Thomas Jefferson. He's in a fraternity and has heard a lot of anger since Rolling Stone called into question its own reporting.

HEAD: People within the fraternity life feel wronged. They've received a disproportionate amount of the blame for sexual assault. And a lot of times, especially in the media, people love to scapegoat fraternities.

LUDDEN: But Head also leads a campus sexual assault peer education group. This story aside, he says, rape is a real problem at UVA. The university's among dozens under federal investigation for mishandling sexual assault complaints. Head doesn't want to see the issue, in his words, swept back under the rug or for people to think nothing happened to the woman at the center of the magazine story.

HEAD: I think that something very, very horrible happened to Jackie. A lot of the facts that were portrayed in the article were not true. But I think that we can't sort of view this as, oh, this was a made-up story because it wasn't.

LUDDEN: Jackie's former roommate also says while she has no evidence, she's convinced Jackie was assaulted. She wrote in the student paper this story is not a hoax, a lie or a scheme. Some worry that accusations it is will keep other victims from speaking out.

ASHLEY BROWN: It is, like, a legitimate fear that I have right now - that people are going to be deterred from reporting because they don't want to be crucified by some random reporter that popped out of nowhere.

LUDDEN: Ashley Brown heads another group that supports sexual assault survivors. Despite her fear, though, she doesn't think all the energy of recent weeks will be lost.

BROWN: Quite frankly, our biggest enemy before all this had come out was apathy, both, I think, from the general body and from the administration. And so now they're finally waking up and calling on the people that have an idea of what's going on.

LUDDEN: Brown is now part of a new group - students, alumni, parents and administrators that will review university policy on sexual assault and the culture of Greek life. Monday, President Teresa Sullivan said the university is moving with urgency on a host of short- and long-term changes. And ideas are coming from all over.

ALEXA LIEDKE: Actually, some of them that we received today - very long and excellently written petition.

LUDDEN: Alexa Liedke created the Alliance for Social Change after the Rolling Stone article came out. The petition from alumni of a big sorority calls for trained fraternity members to police their parties for sexual misconduct.

LIEDKE: That way, people within these organizations have a resource that they can go to immediately who is a peer rather than someone they feel would judge them or punish them.

LUDDEN: The art department's also planning to stage a visual representation of sexual violence. Liedke says it's always been something that happens in the dark. Now - love the attention or hate it - it's out in the light, she says, and we want to keep there. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.
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