Thursday, April 12, 2007

Injustice Served: All Charges Dropped in Duke Univeristy Rape Case

Her word against his. The victim is lying. Who are you going to believe? The adult entertainer, or the college boys? Black or white? The boys probably didn't do it, you think, when you are hearing the news in passing.

But I think they probably did.

All charges of rape and sexual assault were dropped against Duke University students, who were accused of sexually assaulting a woman who was hired as an entertainer at a party they attended. The North Carolina Attorney General, Roy Cooper, said, “The Duke lacrosse case has shown that our society has lost sight of the most fundamental principle of our legal system: the presumption of innocence.” (New York Times, "All Charges Dropped in Duke Case," April 12, 2007). He said the District Attorney was overreaching, rogue, and hence, the case was thrown out.

I find it to be an interesting statement made by the North Carolina Attorney General: what we need to learn from this case is that people are innocent until proven guilty.

I propose that we need to learn from the Duke case is how we continue to blame the very victims our legal system is supposed to protect. I am outraged as a citizen of this country. I am outraged as a woman. We are told between the lines that, at the end of the day, it was her fault that the case will not go to trial. She couldn't remember the details (she had been drinking, her fault) and there is no evidence (she's lying, bad person).

Rape is still one of the most underreported crimes in our country (Center for Disease Control, "Sexual Violence Fact Sheet," April 10, 2007). Therefore, it is a rather unlikely scenario that women simply fabricate stories of rape, as I have heard unpalatably suggested. A classic retort to accusations of sexual abuse continues to be the besmirching of the victim's character. Roy Cooper said that that the evidence did not support the victim's accusations, and indeed, the victim did not support her own accusations: “No D.N.A. confirms the accuser’s story. No other witness confirms her story. Other evidence contradicts her story. She contradicts herself.” Saying she contradicts herself is, in my view, a different way of saying she lied about her victimization; one that is couched in legal jargon and technicality. If he stated in an obvious way that she lied about the victimization, the public would take note; it would be uncouth.

The victim maintains that she was assaulted by these individuals, though her case will not go to trial. The cards were stacked so high against her from the beginning of the case. More than the issue of race, which the media latched onto, this case also highlighted socio-economic issues, issues of legal justice for victims, and women's rights. I can only imagine the courage this young woman had to stand up to the powers that be, because she believed in justice.