The Duke lacrosse case

From the New York Times: "A lot of innocent young people and the families are being hurt," said Robert S. Bennett, hired by some of the Duke lacrosse players' families as a PR person. Later in the same article: "Wade M. Smith, who represents one of the lacrosse players, said ...he hoped that [the DA] Mr. Nifong dropped the case entirely, and soon, so that the players and everyone in this community could begin the healing process." In another NYT story: "Another defense lawyer, Bill Thomas II, said, 'This has been an absolute nightmare for these young men and their families.'"

I've been talking to people about the case recently, and sometimes I'm reminded--usually, although not always, by men--that this is an alleged rape and that the lacrosse players are innocent until proven guilty. Yes, of course that's true: in a court, they are innocent until proven guilty. The problem with this as our complete response to this case, however, is twofold:

1. Over the years I've known, as a conservative estimate, 56 students who have been raped, either while they were in college or before they got there. How many of these students' cases do you think resulted in a guilty verdict? None. As a matter of fact, most of them didn't even go to trial. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • A few reported to the Nashville police but were told there wasn't enough evidence for the DA to proceed.
  • At least a dozen reported the incident to campus police but were scolded for a) drinking, b) having a boy in their room, or c) going to a fraternity party in the first place, and the case wasn't pursued.
  • Many, many of them suspected that they'd be blamed for what happened, or blamed themselves, so they never told anybody about it until they told me. I mean, let's face it--they've seen what happens to rape victims when they come forward.
So what this means is that all those rapists are innocent. Which is bullshit. Where is the justice for my students?

2. Almost anytime I talk about rape, people raise concerns about men who are falsely accused. The level of concern is really interesting, given the fact that false accusations for rape are at about the same level as false accusations for other crimes (around 2%). We're not facing an epidemic of innocent men being imprisoned for rapes they didn't commit. Quite the contrary.

I've been thinking a lot about this case lately, and I'll probably post more thoughts about it. But one thing I wanted to share right now is that I can't read about this case without thinking about all the women I know who've been raped, and who haven't been believed or helped. Andrea Dworkin gave a speech called "I Want a Twenty-four Hour Truce During Which There Is No Rape," and in it she said,
We use statistics not to try to quantify the injuries, but to convince the world that those injuries even exist. Those statistics are not abstractions. It is easy to say, "Ah, the statistics, somebody writes them up one way and somebody writes them up another way." That's true. But I hear about the rapes one by one by one by one by one, which is also how they happen. Those statistics are not abstract to me. Every three minutes a woman is being raped. Every eighteen seconds a woman is being beaten. There is nothing abstract about it. It is happening right now as I am speaking.
This case isn't abstract to me. And every time someone suggests that the members of the Duke lacrosse team are the real victims, the "innocent young people...being hurt," the ones suffering through "an absolute nightmare," the ones in need of healing, I know that my female students are hearing this, and the message they're getting from this culture is be quiet.


A. said...

I've been thinking about the danger and pointless-ness that is connected with any type of violence (person to person or country to country).

If you've been hurt (or if someone you know has been hurt), what can you do to get "justice?" But, more importantly...what is "justice?" What will make the closure for these actions?

I don't think anyone has figured that out yet...

Alison said...

Yeah, this is a real question. I don't necessarily think someone being thrown in jail is equivalent to justice or closure (in fact, I have real problems with the criminal justice system altogether).

But I do think that a cultural response that says to the victim, "We know that something awful happened to you, and we affirm that this is not acceptable. You are valuable, and we're going to make changes so that this doesn't happen again," would be a step in the right direction.

Charlie said...


Anonymous said...

"How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live." Henry David Thoreau

Some people believe in nothing but their own pleasure, their god is their own stomach.

They know nothing more than being a consumer and wear the supposed cloak of invincibility deeded to them by their class. They are clouds without water.

"What happened to the dreams of a girl president?
She's dancing in the video next to 50 Cent." Pink, another great philosopher.

It leads to nihilism and, eventually, a thirst for anything that satiates the ever present question which to some is a welcomed friend and to others is a buzzing insect, "Why am I here?"

Some will answer that question by the most immediate answer, the self congratulatory high of power. Whether it is achieved by making drunken frat boys go "woo hoo" or if it is by beating the snot out of someone else, it is still simple vanity that pushes the "go" button which results in self destructive behavior.

Revenge, greed, rape, drunkenness, lust, sexual domination, are all symptoms of an empty life. Woe to them and to all of us who at times have misused other people, whether it be through violence or emotional manipulation, to gain our own temporary pleasures and feel a sense of control.

Ultimately I don't know what happened here and maybe this is a matter only for the community involved. I say that not because it is not an important story, but as Americans, we sometimes make crime investigations into a form of sport.

I hope justice is done instead of a cash settlement. If a crime was committed against me, $1 million or $1 billion would not be enough to undo the wrong. My guess is at some point somebody will write a check and this will disappear.

I wish we lived in a society which emphasized that young, attractive women can be more than boy toys. I wish we lived in a society which allowed young men to be more sensitive and thoughtful without being called "queer." I wish we lived in a society which honored debate teams more than football teams. I wish we lived in a society which disdained sexual violence with the vigor we have toward those who express unpopular ideas about race. Maybe someday that will change. I am an optimist and therefore believe that men can learn from their mistakes.

The solution is not more marches, more anger; it is a change of heart. However, in the fast lane you rarely see turning points. Rape is evil. Accusing someone falsely of rape is evil. Allowing someone to get away with a crime so they can harm someone else is, essentially, a permission slip for evil. Choosing sides before knowing the facts may not be evil, but it is usually dumb and selfish.

If fewer women felt a need to use their body as a tool to pay the bills and if fewer men felt it was acceptable to gaze upon them for their own gratification then we wouldn't be in this mess. If fewer men felt that the best way to gain pleasure is by violence or making another feel like less of a human being then we wouldn't be in this mess. It all leads back to consumerism. You can only begin to feel better about yourself and be willing to change when you declare, “I am not a product.”

Jason said...

You know what I love even more than this blatent one sided entry, is the fact that you didn't post my first comment!!! Was it that truthful???? Not to be an ass or anything, but healthy conversation stems from different people contributing to it, not the same people saying the same thing over and over, I think that is a utopia? or a dictatorship, depends on how you look at it. Just wondering why my first post was never put up on your site????

Alison said...

Hey, Jason--

Welcome to the blog. I don't know who you are, and I never saw your first post, so I think it must have gotten lost in cyberspace. You can certainly send it again.

Oh, and keep in mind that we reserve the right not to post things that are incredibly mean and have no point. But as long as you've got something meaningful to say, we'll post it even if we disagree with it.

Jason said...

I don't remember what I posted, it was something to the effect of innocent until proven guilty and that the DA was up for re-election this year and that Durham is 71% African American.....but it was much more elequent then that. Oh well, c'est la vie.