Friday, April 21, 2006

When Rape Stories Go Bad

I'm reading this story and it makes me so angry. From The Raleigh New and Observer, New Tension Cloaks Team.

Gumiela [a lacrosse-playing high school teammate of one of the Duke captains] is angry about the wreckage caused by this high-profile case -- reputations ruined, a season canceled and a friend's athletic career and quest for a national championship at an end.

'The whole team's a casualty,' he said. 'If the actions of a couple of guys ruined it for the whole team, that's a terrible weight. The season's gone, the coach is gone, the whole program is decimated.'"

Reputations ruined? A woman trying to do her job, raise her kids, and go to school is called a "ho" by half the nation. There's a reputation ruined. A season canceled? How much time will Mary Doe spend recovering from the injuries she sustained that night? I'm guessing you don't get over being strangled fast. What about the likelihood that she's going to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for the rest of her life, jumping at sudden noises, panicking when she sees a group of white men together, terrified of parties, terrified to leave her house?

Equating the whole team with the victim is ludicrous. The whole team didn't have to go to the ER. Commentators are carefully not accusing any members of the team of anything. The school waited three weeks after the rape to take any steps against the team, although they have clearly violated the school's rules and some laws with their conduct towards neighbors of the house in question.

Only three men have been mentioned, however obliquely, as rapists. But the whole team was either present, or afterwards, aware of that night's party. Their silence pits their group identity, their collective manliness, against women and blacks. That is a terrible weight.

"I can't tell you the pressure and the anxiety and the fear and the terror that all these families have lived under for the last several weeks," he [Finnerty's lawyer] said.

You think it even starts to compare with the pressure and the anxiety and the fear and the terror of being trapped and raped and strangled? I don't. It might be hard on the families of the teammates, but I'm guessing it's a hell of a lot harder, orders of magnitude harder, on the family of Mary Doe.

'Could there have been a conspiracy of silence?'

An "exclusive all-boys academy" lacrosse coach asks.

Why, yes. Although the authors of Campus Gang Rape: Party Games? are specifically addressing fraternities, they are clear that gang rapes are not limited to fraternity houses, but also happen at other off-campus parties, "The dynamics are essentially the same."

In almost all the cases of fraternity gang rape, many more brothers knew what was going on than actually participated but none that we know of interceded or went to the authorities. Often, the “bonds of brotherhood” prohibit “getting their brothers into trouble”; therefore, witnesses may remain silent or even lie. One victim was told by a fraternity member not involved in her rape that he was indeed her “friend” and would like to help her (in testifying in a college investigation); but he didn’t want to get his brothers in trouble—he had to “stick up” for them. At another institution a male student member of the disciplinary board noted that nearly all the cases brought before the board concerned fraternity brothers who commonly covered up each others’ indiscretions. He described the role of the fraternity: “By using the (fraternities) as a crutch, a sanctioned way of lying to protect the guilty, individuals never need to account for themselves. Those men learned a lesson: no matter how sleazy your actions there is always the fraternity to hide behind.”

Duke University, like many other colleges and universities, encourages athletes to live apart from other students and together as a team. The school, the alumni funding, the coaches all encourage the team to bond and depend on one another, to regard their loyalty to one another as most important. The other accusations about misbehavior at the house suggest a general pattern of teammates together behaving in ways they probably wouldn't dream of individually.

I realize the writers of the story had a hook: the sword of Damocles hanging over the team is the possibility of another indictment. But everyone is not equally a victim here. And the threat of a possible indictment is nothing compared to the threat of being raped and strangled. The threat of death to a woman should rate a little higher than a court case. Besides, odds are anyone tried for the crime will not be convicted:

The general population has a conviction rate of 80%. The conviction rate of an athlete is 38%.
[stat from NCAVA]


spuffyduds said...

Hey, you have a blog! Yay! ::adds to fave list::

Yeah, this whole case is driving me crazy on a lot of different levels. It is, at least, bringing to my attention a personal prejudice that I should really try to eradicate. (Every time I try to remind myself that these guys are innocent until proven guilty, a little voice in my head says, "But they're LACROSSE players!")

I went back & read all your entries and love the writing & love the thoughts and the recc's. I keep thinking about your points about group identity and's tricky, because up until some point that can be a good and noble thing, helping and looking out for your fellow team members/squadron members/police officers/whatever. How do you encourage the good kind of cohesiveness without crossing over into "us against everybody else no matter what?"

Kaethe said...

There are a couple of easy ways to discourage aggressive behavior.

All-male retreats are generally a bad idea, and off-campus houses are worse. The university should probably not be renting houses to team captains.

A zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault makes a huge difference. Immediate suspension from extra-curricular activities, pending investigation, tells everyone that assault isn't permitted. Whereas permitting athletes to play, even after they are sentenced for an assault, is a clear message that sports are more important than the safety of others.

Sixteen of the team members had previous charges and probationary deals, all of which are now being reexamined. Had Colin Finnerty been suspended from the team for the prior assault charge, I don't think there would be another assault to investigate now.

Campuses and police departments can accept anonymous reports. Obviously, you aren't going to throw a student out because of a single anonymous accusation, but a student who has been accused of misconduct, of any kind, can be warned. [As an added bonus, anonymous reporting for sexual assaults can provide useful information for crimes that are officially reported and investigated]

Anonymous said...

Interesting article you wrote.

My comment is a year late, but please see my blog regarding a really horrible gang rape that happened 46 years ago!