A few thoughts on gang rape

I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise to my readers that I am opposed to gang rape. Indeed, I suspect that deep down inside, a fair number of Americans are opposed to rape in general, and gang rape in particular. Alas, given that one in four American women can expect to be raped in her lifetime, not enough Americans care about rape. (Rape statistics are extremely difficult to confirm–the one in four estimate is from the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation. Statistics on male rape are even more challenging to verify, and I have left them out of the discussion for the time being. Suffice it to say that men are raped.)

When I was teaching in the high schools, discussions of what, exactly, rape was would come up fairly frequently. I define rape in a fairly straightforward fashion: rape is sexual activity without consent, sex under duress, or sex with an individual who is unable to give consent due to drug or alcohol induced incapacity. Consent can be withdrawn at any time–in California, you can be prosecuted for rape whenever your partner says “stop, I don’t want to do this,” regardless as to your relationship status, any prior agreements, or state of undress at the time. Well meaning boyfriends ask me “but sometimes my girlfriend says no, and I think she means yes, you know, she’s teasing, what should I do?” And I would say “try stopping. If she says no to mean yes, she’ll wise up in a hurry to using proper language to express her needs. If she says no to mean no, her mission is accomplished.”

But I’m not here to run an advice column. I’m here to talk about the gang rape committed on Duke University property on March 14th.

What, you say. I haven’t heard of this? What is this gang rape of which you speak?

Well, it’s a sad and sordid tale, and not an unusual one.

Duke University, as you are probably aware, is awash with sports teams, including a lacrosse team. On 14 March, the lacrosse team decided to hold a party, a well respected course of activity on Tuesday nights for college students the world ’round. It was determined that in order to liven up the proceedings, two exotic dancers should be hired. The women were duly secured, and here the first lie was told: the dancers were informed that they were dancing at a private bachelor party for five. The women did not bring security or protection along with them, either because it’s not provided by their agency or because they didn’t feel it was necessary. One of the women is a mother of two children, using dancing to pay her way through school.

When the dancers arrived, they were surrounded by forty men. All save one of the men were white. The dancers were black. They began their routine, and according to the accuser were met almost immediately with racial slurs. The women decided to leave, feeling that the environment was unsafe. The men followed the women out, demanding their money back and shouting out more racial slurs. One of the men told the women to “thank your grandfather for the cotton shirt on my back.” True class. A neighbor witnessed the two outside the home, and said that one of them went back inside to get something.

When she did, she was accosted: brutally raped and sodomized in the bathroom by at least three men. The formal charges include assault by strangulation, robbery, sodomy, rape, and kidnapping. A search of the house revealed the woman’s fingernails, makeup bag, and cellphone, all things women commonly leave behind at parties. (Fingernails, according to Miss Manners, are all the rage as a thank you present to your host.)

There are so many things wrong with this story that I hardly know where to begin with my irritation.

1. The neighbor. In retrospect, he says he should have called the police, who were apparently routinely called to that neighborhood. Indeed, there have been so many complaints about the area that the University bought fifteen properties, including the house where the rape was committed, with the intent to sell them to long-term landlords who would also live in the homes, instead of renting them out to college students. The neighbor expressed guilt in an interview over not calling the police to the house when the party got rowdy: I’m sure the victim feels so very terrible for the neighbor.

2. The racially charged nature of the case. As several critics have pointed out, if this happened at a primarily black university and members of a black team raped a white stripper, it would be national news. As it is, the story has been slow to break, although thanks to the nature of the internet it is starting to make the news–the Chronicle finally had an article on it this morning.

3. The University’s lack of proper response. Only after public outcry was the team shut down until further notice, for example. Universities with sports teams are notorious for not controlling them properly and for turning a blind eye to inappropriate behaviour. This case is merely one example for a need to crack down on University sports teams–athletes are not Gods, and they should not be permitted to ride roughshod. I assure you that had the rape been perpetrated by the Chess Club, all the players would now be in custody, and the club would be shut down.

4. There are a lot of dynamics of inequality going on in this case: her sex, her race, her economic class. It is a terrible world that we live in when a group of upper class white men think it permissible to assault a lower class working mother, when women are cheapened by the nature of their social status.

I am glad to see mounting protests at Duke by the student body, as well there should be. I hope this brings about a moratorium on the free hand sports teams are given. Indeed, given my opposition to the way in which University athletics are handled, I hope it brings about a moratorium on University teams in general. I don’t think that violent sports have a place in the academic environment, though I am supportive of physical activity by university students. I hope this brings about mandatory education at the University about these issues. I hope that the entire team is expelled, for they all acted in collusion. She was raped not only by the three men who physically raped her, but by the two men who kidnapped her, and by the thirty five men who did nothing while all this was going on, and who refuse to name their teammates.

I am very proud of the unnamed woman for reporting the crime. I am proud of her for escaping and calling the police, for going to the hospital and submitting to a sexual assault exam, and for being strong. I hope that her friends and family are with her, and that she is well cared for, and I hope she doesn’t lose her resolve in the face what I imagine will be considerable pressure from the University.

I firmly believe that if the University kept a better eye on the sports teams, this incident would not have occurred. I suspect the University knows this, because they have kept mum on the issue–only through concerted public effort was the team suspended from play.

Were I to comment on every reported rape in the United States, this site would be updated a whole lot more. Hell, I’d probably have to move servers to store all the information. But this rape deserves special attention, and should be singled out, because of its multifold and horrific nature. All rape should be spoken out against, but this rape is one which speaks to a lot of problems with our society and University culture. You should care.

The evidence will out: it is our responsibility as a public to ensure that justice is served.

[Duke University]