Monday, April 16, 2007

On victims and accusers

Okay, so a passionate debate is raging over at Feministe over the recent developments in the Duke rape-accusation case. For those who have been avoiding any headlines not including the words "Anna Nicole Smith," the North Carolina Attorney General, on Wednesday, dropped all charges against the three Duke lacrosse players accused of rape by a stripper at one of their parties. Mike Nifong, the Durham County District Attorney who, arguably, railroaded the young men, faces ethics charges for his prosecution of the case.

A few thoughts, in no particular order:

1. These guys have been dragged through the mud. I can't say I like them any, just from what I've seen. They're the types of guys who book strippers for their keggers and then throw racist slurs at them (which accusations have been substantiated by witnesses), and I just plain don't like people like that. I think they're scum. But being scum isn't the same as being a rapist, and these guys have been treated like rapists for quite some time while evidence is unable to support that accusation. No one deserves that.

2. With that in mind, wouldn't we all be better off if we had shield laws for the accused like we do for the accuser? I think it's perfectly right that a rape victim shouldn't be exposed to media scrutiny and all of the negative attention associated with being a victim and/or accuser. But I also don't think that a person should have to carry around the label "rapist" if there exists a chance that he might not, in fact, be a rapist. There's plenty of time to demonize a criminal after s/he has been found guilty; a trial-by-media serves no one but the media.

3. With that in mind, I'd like to point out the difference between "these men aren't guilty" and "this woman is a liar." The accuser has had her name and picture plastered all over North Carolina and the Internet with the designation "liar," and it may or may not be the case. A couple of alternatives:

- She was raped that night, but not by the men accused.
- She's mentally ill and sincerely thought she had been raped.

After all, the nurse who did her rape exam reported trauma consistent with rape, and the accuser left not just her wallet, her cell phone, and her payment for services rendered but her fingernails in the house. Something happened there, although the nature of that something is debatable. And until that something is determined, until she's charged with making a false accusation, calling her a liar is as premature as calling them rapists.

4. Mike Nifong is a shit. I'm sorry, he is. Heinlein's Law warns us never to attribute to malice that which can adequately be explained by stupidity, but it's hard to believe that, even in this world, someone that sincerely incompetent would be able to reach that level of prominence. Every Law & Order-watching yokel knows the proper procedure for a police lineup, and one suspect's appearance on a Wachovia security video at precisely the time the crime was allegedly occuring should have at least cast some doubt on a solid prosecution. But Nifong was so determined to push the case through that nothing as piddly as evidence was going to stand between him and his ultimate goal, whatever it was. And that's shitty, and his ethics investigation will certainly reveal that and, possibly, more.

5. This is not good for rape victims. They're taken seriously rarely enough as it is - conviction rates for rape are in the lowest tier among all crimes - and this'll only make it easier for people to dimiss them. "Hell, she's probably just making it up! Look at the Duke case!"

6. Nobody won here. Not the young men, who will be carrying the label "accused Duke rapist" for the rest of their lives; Google doesn't forget. Not the accuser, who either a) was seriously traumatized, continues to suffer that trauma and more, and will, likely, never see justice, b) is mentally unwell and needs help, or c) has been lying the entire time and will soon face prosecution. Not the state of North Carolina, which will be digging through the rubble of this case for years to come. Certainly not Mike Nifong, who, whatever his motives were, will be feeling no benefit from this case. And not us, the society who got to watch the entire debacle and got just a little bit stupid every time someone stood up on camera to make a self-serving speech.

1 comment:

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