By Gary Robertson

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Reuters) - The University of Virginia student who fabricated a gang rape story published in Rolling Stone got a tattoo to commemorate the supposed assault and her ability to overcome it, the story's reporter testified on Friday.

News of the tattoo came to light as former Rolling Stone reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely testified for the third day in a $7.9 million federal defamation suit filed against the magazine by former University of Virginia Associate Dean Nicole Eramo.

After a recorded interview that Erdely had with the woman was played for the jury, Erdely said that the woman had lifted up her dress to show the tattoo, a female symbol with a fist on a rose.

“She wanted the tattoo to memorialize the rape and her ability to overcome it,” Erdely testified in U.S. District Court.

"Did it ever occur to you that somebody would get a tattoo to memorialize something that never occurred?” asked defense attorney Scott Sexton.

"Never,” Erdely said. She said the woman, who is named only as "Jackie" in the story and at the trial, always vividly described details of the reported 2012 assault at a fraternity house.

The 2014 story, "A Rape on Campus," set off protests and debate about rape on college campuses. Rolling Stone retracted the article in April 2015, and an investigation by Charlottesville police found that the attack never occurred.

Eramo has accused the magazine of painting her as the villain in the story. She and university administrators were criticized in it for not taking stronger action to support victims of sexual violence.

Defense attorneys have said that as a public figure, Eramo could constitutionally be subject to criticism. They also have said Erdely, her editor and Rolling Stone believed in Jackie’s credibility.

Attorneys representing Eramo, who is now in an administrative role, have contended that Erdely and her editors never verified key elements of the story.

Jackie’s video deposition has yet to be heard by the jury.

While the incident depicted in the story never occurred, sex assaults remain a major concern on U.S. college campuses. Some reports estimate that one in five female students will be victims of sex assault during their college years.

The lawsuit also names Rolling Stone's owner, Wenner Media, and author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, as defendants. The trial is expected to continue through next week.

(Editing by Ian Simpson and Andrew Hay)