Thursday, May 25, 2006

Less Framing, Please

Talk about framing: when Tracy Clark-Flory writes about Lynn Duke's writing on the Duke case, why does she keep referring to the woman in question as 'the accuser'? Lynn Duke considers how coverage/discussion of the case has reinforced stereotypes about the sexuality of African-American women; her article is mostly about race in the case. Tracy Clark-Flory focuses more on class, and how the relative socio-economic positions of the principles are covered.

Much of the coverage of the case so far has used the details as a lens to consider something else: race, class, town-gown conflict. I have used it to write about campus and gang rape.

But how do we talk about Her? A woman was attacked while at work, for which she received medical attention at a nearby ER. There are legitimate reasons for preferring not to call her 'the victim', since that defines her by the crime others committed against her. It makes her an object being acted upon, both metaphorically and grammarily.

Calling her 'the accuser' reinforces the idea of a he said/she said equivalency. It affords her a more active role in the case, but it has the subtext of "alleged". The emphasis is placed upon her words, which, it suggests, may or may not be valid.

Given that her body became a crime scene, one might refer to her as 'the witness', although that could lead to potential confusion with the other woman who was working at that party on that night.

What are some other possibilities? How should we refer to a crime victim in a way that doesn't stress the victimization? Should we refer to the characteristics of a job title, or a college major? Stay-at-home-parents, as well as those who are unemployed and under-employed, all find that an emphasis on paid work as an identifier excludes them. Emphasizing her roles as daughter or mother make an appeal to her vulnerability and reinforce a patriarchal viewpoint by defining her in terms of her relationships.

I know that there is nothing I can possibly write about the topic that's going to help her in any way. She's had a horrific experience and her brave decision to report the crime means that in many ways the experience is unending. Nonetheless, I want to know: is there any way we can talk about a crime committed against a woman, or a man, or a child, that doesn't somehow make it worse?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Adulthood Isn't All Disappointment

It's a lot of disappointment, sure. When you're growing up you're always looking to the next important birthday, and all of those great things you can't wait to do. Then you discover the downside. The delight of zooming off all by yourself down a country road with the music blasting turns out to be...commuting. The novelty of driving is quickly offset by having to pay for a car, and insurance, and gas. Likewise, I haven't experienced much of the pleasure of voting, despite voting with enthusiasm and due diligence, early and often. My candidates rarely win.

But there is one blissful aspect of adulthood that has not yet let me down: cake for breakfast. Ahhh. I love my veggies and fruit, my healthy meals. But every once in a while, a gal wants itty bitty dark chocolate cupcakes with buttercream frosting. And if a gal is really lucky, she gets them. Lovingly hand-crafted by her beloved Spouse. With decorations.


Of course, discretion is called for. It's unkind to expose young kids to the temptation of cake for breakfast. I wouldn't want to flaunt cupcakes in front of them at 6:30 am. Mostly, because I'd cave, and give them some, and then there would be fewer for me.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

[NOW Action List] Time to Raise the Minimum Wage!

"It's Time to Raise the Minimum Wage!

Let Congress hear from you -- Support raising the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour by 2008.

The federal minimum wage has not been raised in almost 10 years. It is time to help struggling working families get a raise. Of the 7.3 million workers currently earning the federal minimum wage of $5.15 per hour, 61% are women and 72% are breadwinning adults, not teenagers in their first after-school job."

I notified my senators and representative, I hope you'll do the same. NOW makes it easy to take action. Let everyone know: if you really care about family values, you'll take this action to support families.

Remember what's really wrong with Kansas

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Here's a Clue

This is for anyone who is wondering "Where did Duke go so horribly wrong?"

Today Duke released another report from one of Brodhead's committees, this one specifically to address the administration's role in the fiasco to date. The Raleigh News & Observer has covered the report, as has The New York Times at this posting. Both papers are emphasizing a key finding: that the University did not take seriously the allegations of rape because of alleged comments from Durham police that doubted the credibility of the witness. Supposedly the Durham police told the Duke police that the victim "kept changing her story and wasn't credible" and that "if any charges were brought, they would be no more than misdemeanors".

A police report was made. A victim was taken to the ER. You damn well better take that seriously. You better assume all witnesses are credible until proved otherwise.

Let me be clear, if redundant. Sexual assault is the most common violent crime against college women. Of an undergraduate population of 6,534 students, Duke has approximately 3,136 females. By the best estimates, that means 87 sexual assaults against women per academic year. [I only leave out sexual assaults of men because it's so hard to find anything resembling a good estimate. You think women under-report rape, try finding the number of men.]

Eighty-seven sexual assaults per academic year. Duke reported 8 for 2004.

A second major failing--apart from communications failures but related to them--was that Duke administrators (especially Duke police, Dean Wasiolek, and Vice President Moneta) seriously underestimated the seriousness of the allegations.
In real terms that means they did nothing except notify the Athletics department, and the lacrosse coach.

All assault reports should be viewed as credible and investigated. All of them. Coaches should not be responsible for investigating or disciplining criminal complaints.

Durham City Manager Patrick Baker disputes that the city police questioned the report or the victim in today's Durham Herald, writing that "the Durham Police Department immediately launched a full investigation into these allegations". Brodhead's administrative committee did not actually interview anyone from the Durham Police Department. On the other hand, Baker is still trying to defend the police, who didn't interview the NCCU student for 36 hours, and didn't execute a search warrent at the scene of the crime for another day after that.

The comittee's report is very clear that there was no effort at a cover up. This is gross incompetence more than active malice. No one in the administration thought a rape report was a big deal. No one thought accusations of racial epithets coming from the house were a big deal. No one thought the race of the victim was a big deal. No one thought, is pretty much what it comes down to.

Duke of course has a policy on sexual misconduct:

Duke University is committed to providing an environment free of personal affronts against individuals and will not tolerate sexual misconduct in its community.

Here's another clue: not bothering to investigate reports of sexual misconduct is actually demonstrating an awful lot of tolerance. Deranged indifference, wanton disregard, even.

Penalties attached to a finding of "responsibility" by the Undergraduate Judicial Board

include, but are not limited to, expulsion, suspension, disciplinary probation, recommended counseling, and/or other educational sanctions deemed appropriate by the hearing body

The administration's indifference to a rape report is a personal affront to me. It should be an affront to every person who isn't actually a rapist.

I recommend counseling for the administration. They need a little course on violence and rape, because clearly, they don't get it.

At this point, it isn't the credibility of the NCCU student that is being questioned, but the credibility of a university who knew about a gang rape and did absolutely nothing. If I were paying $43,115 a year, I'd expect a little better.

Update: the Raleigh News & Observer follows up on the "lack of credibility" issue.

City Manager Patrick Baker said Tuesday that the Duke police report is based on what a campus police officer overheard a low-ranking Durham officer say on a cell phone early that morning outside Duke Hospital. The criminal investigation has been handled by Durham police.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

It's Not What You Think

Last night I dreamed about a man who smelled of slightly burnt toast. I'm not going to bore anyone with the dream, or with any pointless exercise in "dream interpretation."

The reason I mention this is that I have an impaired sense of smell. I'm not totally anosmic, as two of my friends are. I'm more the "hard of smelling" sort. Presumably, if I didn't have allergies to everything that grows, I could smell just fine. Realistically, I can detect maybe five different plants held up to my nose, a few foods (popcorn, bacon), a few really unpleasant smells that don't need to be named but are often associated with babies and cats, and not much else. Other people have rich memories associated with smells -- I have no memories attached to smells. I can't taste much either. Many days I don't taste anything beyond sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and I only like the first two of those. Thus, a meal of french fries and chocolate milkshake has maximum appeal to me.

Given the meagre scents available to me, it is a moment of transcendent delight to realize that I can smell in my dreams. Slightly burnt toast. Lovely.

Blind Committees, Bad Advice

President Richard H. Brodhead Statement on Committee Reports: "Committees examined lacrosse program, university disciplinary processes"

Look at this list of comittees:

Presidential Council
Investigation of Duke Administration Response
Investigation of Men's Lacrosse (May 1 Report)
Examination of Student Judicial Process and Practices (May 1 Report)
Campus Culture Initiative

What's missing? There is absolutely no mention of rape as a campus problem. No mention of violent crimes at all. No mention of the reporting, or tracking, or dissemination of information on violent crime. No mention of gang rape in particular. My guess, based on victim surveys, is that

What have the committees so far reporting determined? Well, the Lacrosse committee found that the team was worse than most teams, but that was no reason to dump the program.

The committee examining university disciplinary processes found that alcohol is a big issue and that nobody knows what's going on off-campus. They didn't say anything about the biggest problem:

the increased risk of rape when allmale groups (such as athletes and fraternity members) live together in houses with private rooms, where parties are frequent, and where alcohol is available

It's all a tremendous load of blathering. Developing policies, implementing mechanisms, stakeholders, blah, blah, blah, it's all PR. None of it means anything.

What should be in there? An acknowledgement that this isn't about one team at one school at one time. This is a single representation of a national problem. By breaking the inquiry up into seven different committees, Duke doesn't have to address the only real topic: Sexual assault is the most common violent crime on campus.

What I want to know is: how many students (or others) have been sexually assaulted on campus or in off-campus Duke locations? What is Duke doing about it?

Good luck finding any useful information. Duke reported 8 sexual offenses for 2004. My guess, based on victim surveys, is that rather more people sought assistance from Sexual Assault Support Service or the Durham Crisis Support Center than the reported number suggests.

Eight? Really? How many people did you know of in college who had been assaulted?

Update: "Duke treats up to 90 people a year who have been sexually assaulted" reported in Nov. of 1999, upon the opening of a dedicated treatment room for victims of sexual assault. Obviously, not all of those treated were students.