Several have raised legitimate questions about the veracity of a front page Rolling Stone story titled A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA, which accuses several Phi Kappa Psi members of gang-raping a young woman during a fraternity party at the University of Virginia. The story has already spawned it’s own hashtag (#UVARape), lead to major campus protests, and caused the president of the university to suspend all fraternity activities till after the new year.
Written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the Rolling Stone story rests almost entirely on a single source, whose real name is not revealed. While the story presented is possible, because allegations are made behind pseudonyms, it is impossible to fact-check or verify the story. I don’t know if the story is true or not, but I do know the same accusations were made at the university ten years ago – and a jury found them to be false.
In November 2004, The Hook, a local Virginia magazine, ran a front page cover story titled How UVA turns its back on rape. Unlike the Rolling Stone article, the accuser gave her full real name—Annie Hylton—and allowed her face to be used for the cover photo. Over the course of the next year, The Hook ran three more articles on the case as it went to trial and an eventually reached a verdict. [The four stories: 1, 2, 3, 4] In each article, the story changed as the truth slowly came to light.
This is a longer article, but if you’ve ever wondered how a rape accusation plays out in real life, prepare for the harrowing truth.
The First Story: How UVA turns its back on rape
Whereas the Rolling Stone article presents Jackie’s story in third person narration as if it is undisputed objective fact, the first Hook article begins Hylton’s story with the caveat that this her side of the story:
In the $1.85 million suit she [Annie Hylton] filed in Charlottesville Circuit Court two years after the incident, Hylton reveals allegations of the evening that changed her life. What follows is her side of the story. [emphasis added]
Her first semester at UVA was winding down when a friend asked if she’d like to go on a double date to a fraternity function. Though Hylton hadn’t met her prospective date– a third year named Matthew Hamilton– she says she looked forward to the evening of December 8, 2001.
The two couples had dinner downtown. While Hylton says the early part of the evening was “fine,” she alleges that even at the restaurant, things began to go wrong.
Hamilton “repeatedly offered” to obtain alcoholic drinks for then 18-year-old Hylton. She “repeatedly declined,” but Hamilton continued to bring them. Hylton drank only “a small amount,” the suit states, “not enough so that it would have affected her.”
Later on, her recollection becomes sketchy. At the party at the Delta Tau Delta fraternity, where both women’s dates were members, Hylton “became very ill and vomited a number of times.”
Her nausea continued, and while “she was aware of some things that happened… she was not able to function and felt mentally and physically impaired,” according to her suit.
If this sounds like a classic description of the effects of so-called “date-rape drugs,” Hylton stops short of offering that theory.
“We’re not making any claims at this point,” says her lawyer, Ed Wayland. “We’re hoping to get an explanation during the course of the investigation.”
At one point, Hylton became aware that she was wearing a t-shirt and that she was in Mr. Hamilton’s bed. “Mr. Hamilton was not in the bed, but Ms. Hylton was aware that he and one or more other people were in the room.”
Then she lost consciousness. When she awoke, “Mr. Hamilton was on top of her engaging in sexual intercourse.”
Hylton attempted to get Hamilton to stop, the suit alleges, but he did not. “Mr. Hamilton held Ms. Hylton down, continued to touch and fondle her and attempted to resume having sexual intercourse.”
The article contains many of the same criticisms of the Rolling Stone article—noting that despite sixty students reporting sexual assault, not one offender has been expelled, and calling UVA sexual assault policy too lenient and in need of change. Like the Rolling Stone article, the woman at the center of the story also reports symptoms consistent with PTSD.
The Hook article also describes a deliberate University cover-up, with UVA issuing a gag order on her, forbidding her to talk publicly about this issue:
Hylton says she was told that all aspects of the hearing– including her attacker’s name and the outcome of the hearing– had to remain confidential. If she revealed those details, she was warned, she could face a Judiciary Committee penalty, which can include suspension or expulsion.
At the end of two weeks, the Board returned a guilty verdict against Hamilton. But Hylton’s ordeal was not over. Her attacker was allowed to remain at UVA, and she was not allowed to say a word about him.
In response, a Pennsylvania-based non-profit called Security on Campus filed a lawsuit, saying that the university policy was in conflict with federal law, and that victims “need to be able to talk about the substance of their case, their experience with the process, and to disclose results.” Hamilton’s mother also started a website, uvavictimsofrape.com, where other women began contacting her with their stories of sexual assault.
Unlike the Rolling Stone article, all names are real.
By going public, Hylton becomes a rarity in American discourse: a sexual assault victim who isn’t hiding behind a cloak of anonymity. She says she’s putting her name and story before the public with the hope that she will help others.
The Hook also includes a response from the man accused, protesting that he is innocent. Rolling Stone reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely never even contacted Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity accused in her article, to get their side of the story. After her article was published the UVA chapter of Phi Kappa Psi was vandalized and the fraternity released a statement saying “we have no specific knowledge of the claims set out in the Rolling Stone article,” indicating that they may not have even known the article was coming.
In fact, The Hook article includes a paragraph of text for every major participant to tell their side of the story. It is a well-researched, balanced piece of journalism, addressing an important issue.
Unfortunately, a jury would later find this story was not entirely true.
The Second Story: Her day in court: UVA rape case goes to trial
Nearly a year later, in August 2005, after the first article drew national attention and student protests, The Hook published a followup story titled: Her day in court: UVA rape case goes to trial.
“I’m excited to get my day in court, but you never know what’s going to happen,” says Hylton, whose case touched off a debate because the alleged attacker, Matthew Hamilton, remained a student– while the alleged victim, under threat of expulsion, wasn’t even allowed to discuss the case.
As Chapman explained to The Hook, “he said-she said” charges simply aren’t sufficient to win a court battle. “We need to have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt,” Chapman says.
Hylton’s case was going to trial. It was there that Hamilton would present his side of the story, and a new narrative would emerge.
The Third Story: ‘Mickey Finn?’ Date rape stories conflict
On September 5th of the same year, two months later, The Hook ran another follow up: ‘Mickey Finn?’ Date rape stories conflict. The story begins:
Did Matt Hamilton drug and rape Annie Hylton, or was she an “energetic drunk” who had consensual sex with Hamilton? That’s the question a jury considered earlier this week.
Winegardner [Hamilton’s attorney] called several of Hamilton’s friends to the stand, who claimed Hylton seemed drunk but entirely conscious and was joking with them from her perch in Hamilton’s loft.
Hamilton’s star witness and fraternity brother Ben Decker called Hylton an “energetic drunk” who playfully teased him in Hamilton’s room between 2 and 3am.
During the evening, Decker testified, Hylton leaned up against Hamilton and clasped hands with him.
Another friend of Hamilton’s, Garrett Gluth, testified that Hylton, embarrassed over the vomiting incident, confessed that she “really liked” Matt and didn’t want him to think she was a “stupid first year.”
Both Decker and Gluth insisted that she declined repeated offers for rides home in order to stay with Hamilton.
Hylton has testified that this period was all a drug-induced blur.
This is the first time Hamilton’s full side of the story has appeared in The Hook, and it comes with the testimony of multiple other witnesses, making the case more than just he-said, she-said. It’s also worth noting that at this point, the story moved from the cover-photo, to the inside of the magazine, meaning fewer members of the public would have heard his side.
It wasn’t until the fourth story that a verdict was reached.
Annie Hylton (right) and Matthew Hamilton (left)
The Fourth Story: Hylton prevails: But jury says “no rape.”
September 8th, a week later, the Hook ran the verdict: Hylton prevails: But jury says “no rape.”
Although Annie Hylton exclaimed “They believed me” at the conclusion of her civil suit over an alleged date-rape, interviews with some of the jurors in the case tell a different story.
Despite delivering a $150,000 verdict in the highly publicized case, jurors say that the former UVA student failed to prove that she was raped or that she was drugged. Nonetheless, say the jurors interviewed by the Hook, Hylton was a victim of such “negligence” that she deserved compensation from her alleged attacker.
The three-day trial, which wrapped last week, was marked by a profound lack of physical evidence. Instead, it was a case of Hylton’s word against Hamilton’s. Hamilton, a 2003 graduate now living in Brooklyn, New York, currently works as an options trader.
Almost immediately after receiving instructions from Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Edward Hogshire, says juror Kim Henderson, the jury’s five women and two men agreed on two things.
“There was no drugging, no rape,” says Henderson. On those issues, she explains, “We were all on the side of the defense.” [emphasis added]
The jury agreed that Hamilton had not used date rape drugs and that Hylton’s lack of memory was the result of excessive drinking. Hamilton’s attorney estimated that Hylton had drank at least 40 ounces of alcohol over the evening, rather than the five to six her attorney had claimed. At the time, Hylton was a 5’8 140-pound eighteen year-old first year, making forty ounces more than enough to cause a blackout. No evidence of date rape drugs was ever produced.
If we are to believe the jury, what actually happened that night was that Hylton got drunk, and had consensual sex with Hamilton. During sex, she passed out, woke up, asked him to stop. He says he stopped, Hylton says he didn’t, but Hamilton’s attorney pointed out that in her 2002 testimony to the UVA’s Sexual Assault Board she’d said that Hamilton had not resumed sex once she’d woken up and pushed him away. Then—and both sides agree on this—Hylton asked Hamilton for a ride home in the morning, and “and the two engaged in ‘inane chitchat’ in his car,” suggesting that Hylton was still comfortable with Hamilton the morning after.
Despite being found innocent of rape, Hamilton was still punished:
After some consideration, Miller says, the jury found Hamilton guilty only of “simple negligence.”
“He should have just let her lie in the bed and go to sleep,” Henderson says.
Juror Gregg John says the jury believed that both Hamilton and Hylton were negligent that night, but that since Hamilton was “older and more experienced with alcohol,” he should be held to a “slightly higher standard.”
In other-words, a court ruled that a man should face criminal prosecution and a six figure penalty for waking up a woman who passes-out during consensual sex. I am not certain what the predominantly female jury expected Hamilton to do differently. Wouldn’t it also have been negligence to leave a woman passed-out alone in a frat house after consuming that much alcohol?
Hylton was never prosecuted for underage drinking. She was awarded $150,000 because Hamilton failed to take care of her after she engaged in illegal substance abuse. This verdict sends a clear message that women are not legally accountable for their actions, and that it is men’s responsibility to take care of women and protect them from their own bad decisions.
This was ten years ago. The law has only gotten more liberal since then.
Several of Hylton’s friends also attacked Hamilton prior to the verdict:
Some of Hylton’s friends held Hamilton accountable with their own form of vigilante justice at one spring running of the Foxfield Races. After a bitter Hylton berated Hamilton at the Garth Road racing track, several of her friends confronted him and one poured a beer over his head. Another time at the Biltmore Grill, Hamilton testified, a group of her friends surrounded him and allegedly prevented him from leaving. A friend of Hylton’s confirmed those confrontations during her testimony.
The article calls this “justice” despite the fact Hamilton was found innocent of rape. To my knowledge, she and her friends were never prosecuted for their harassment, abuse, and bullying.
The verdict wrecked Hamilton’s finances:
Winegardner [Hamilton’s attorney], however, says his client is “devastated” by what he calls a “compromise verdict.”
Winegardner won’t reveal the cost of Hamilton’s nearly two-year defense, but Hylton’s attorney Rosenfield estimates it is “in the six figures.” While that sum was paid for by Hamilton’s parents’ homeowners insurance, the $150,000 award won’t be covered. That means Hamilton, who testified his annual salary is approximately $40,000, may have to pay it out of pocket.
“Certainly it’s going to have a devastating impact on his personal financial situation and his career aspirations,” says Winegardner, who will present several motions on September 19 asking that Judge Hogshire overturn the verdict.
Hylton on the other hand was satisfied:
Though the award is a far cry from the original $1.85 million in compensatory and punitive damages she originally sought, Hylton expressed satisfaction with the trial’s outcome. “It’s been a long three and a half years,” she says. “The overall process was more important than the verdict itself because it brought a lot of attention to the issue.” [emphasis added]
Her last quote shocks me, and makes me wonder—was attention always more important to her than justice?
What We Can Learn
People are quick to forget history. I would never have heard about this case had a friend who graduated from UVA when this was published not emailed these articles to me. Given the firestorm surrounding UVA, I am surprised no one else has acknowledged the Universities history with false rape accusations.
There are lessons here anyone involved in the modern debate around campus assault would do well to study.
First, the University of Virginia has not been able to handle rape cases for over ten years. The only real justice for anyone involved came when these claims were taken to court. These cases should be handled by the police, not universities.
Second, the media’s initial reports are often inaccurate, because all the facts have not emerged yet. When the 2004 case went to trial, Judge Edward Hogshire held up a copy of The Hook‘s first article and told jury members to stay away from media reports, rightly so.
Third, the University of Virginia has a documented history of false rape accusations. Saying that a rape accusation may be false does not make one an “idiot” or mean the person questioning does not care about rape. It means the person questioning cares about justice.
Fourth, false rape claims are possible, even from witnesses who believe they are telling the truth. The jury agreed that Hylton sincerely believed she had been raped, and had real PTSD symptoms due to this perceived assault, despite also ruling she had not been raped. Merely because a witness is “absolutely bursting to tell this story” does not mean the story is true.
Fifth, the court system holds men to a legal standard it does not hold women. Despite finding him innocent, the court still destroyed Hamilton personally and professionally. Had Hamilton passed out during sex with a woman two years older than him after engaging in underage drinking, I doubt the court would have awarded him $150,000.
Sixth, and perhaps most importantly, we must not prosecute the accused in the court of public opinion, but withhold judgement until they have been allowed to present their defense.
The Rolling Stone article at the center of the #UVARape scandal presents only one person’s testimony, as told two years after the fact. I am certain as this story develops, there will be new information that comes to light, just as it did in the 2004 case. What that information will be, I do not know and cannot predict.
Again, I do not know if the story presented in Rolling Stone is true or not. I only hope that those involved withhold judgement until the full truth is known. Had the 2004 rape accusations made at UVA been tried before all evidence was examined, an innocent man would have gone to jail.