By Kerry Dougherty
The Virginian-Pilot
November 23, 2014If "Rolling Stone" isn't on your reading list, it ought to be. This week, at least.

The current edition features harrowing allegations of a 2012 gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house and accuses school officials of being more concerned with protecting the elite institution's reputation than stomping out criminal sexual activity on its grounds.

I don't know if everything in the article is true. Some of it seems chillingly authentic. Other parts not so much.

Read the piece. Decide for yourself.

If Rolling Stone is right, the University of Virginia provides a lesson in how not to deal with sexual assaults on campus.

The story begins in the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house two years ago. A girl, identified only as 18-year-old Jackie, attended a party with a date. The young man invited her upstairs and once inside a darkened room, she was attacked by seven men. They took turns raping and assaulting her, while her companion coached them.

Be warned: This is a violent and raw narrative.

Hours later, when Jackie stumbled outside, she called her three best friends, two guys and a girl. Her pals debated whether she should report the rapes, concluding that she shouldn't because it would ruin her social life and might hurt her male friends' chances to join a fraternity.

These are smart kids. How could they make such a colossal mistake?

According to the magazine, Jackie suffered from anxiety and depression after the attacks. She considered suicide. She reported the incident to school administrators months later.

Jackie says she was given choices: Summon the police or let the school handle the case formally or informally. Or do nothing.

Traumatized, the young woman sought counseling and joined a university group that offers support to survivors of sexual assault. Because she didn't initiate action against the male students, she continued to see them on the grounds.

According to Rolling Stone, 38 students went to the U.Va. dean assigned to deal with sexual assaults last year.

After reading the Rolling Stone story, university President Teresa Sullivan asked law enforcement to investigate the 2-year-old incident.

According to The Cavalier Daily, Sullivan on Saturday went further, announcing a suspension of "all fraternal organizations and associated social activities" until January.

In an email, she also pleaded with those who know what happened during that 2012 attack to come forward with information.

On Friday, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced that he was appointing an independent counsel to investigate the university's policies on sexual assaults.

If the Hannah Graham tragedy highlighted the need for female college students to exercise extreme caution when going out at night, Jackie's case should tell girls that if they are attacked, they should report the crime. Right away. To the police, not college officials.

In a misguided attempt to be sensitive to the victims of sex crimes and to make them feel safe enough to come forward, Rolling Stone says, U.Va. and other colleges take a neutral position on whether crimes should be prosecuted.

Yet if an armed robber was loose on campus, the safety of the student body would no doubt demand that police be involved. Why would rape be taken less seriously than armed robbery?

Every girl needs to know that if she is attacked, there are a few difficult rules to follow: Do not shower, do not change clothes, and definitely do not give the attackers time to sober up and destroy evidence.

Call 911, tell the truth and let law enforcement take over.

Save the soothing sessions with support groups for later. Violent crimes cry out first for cops, not shrinks.

This isn't the Middle East. We don't blame rape victims for the crimes perpetrated against them. There's simply no excuse for not pursuing rapists with every legal tool available.

U.Va. is an elite academic institution. Its grounds are stunning. Its graduates do great things.

I'm a Wahoo by marriage. I've spent many happy hours in Charlottesville cheering the Cavaliers' football team, strolling the Lawn and admiring the architecture.

But if it turns out that U.Va. has indeed been cavalier in its attitude toward sexual assaults, big changes are needed at this venerable institution.

Right now.

Kerry Dougherty, 757-446-2306, [email protected]