Commentary: Rape at Duke shouldn’t be a race issue

The scandal that rocked Duke University is only a month old, still in its infancy stage. Charges have yet to be filed. Newspapers and magazines are being extremely careful to throw “alleged” around their articles. There is a long road ahead to determine the innocence of 46 Duke lacrosse players accused of participating (either directly or indirectly) in a sexual assault during a party on March 13.

The alleged victim, a black mother of two from North Carolina Central, claims she was hired as a stripper to perform for the Duke lacrosse team, then gang-raped and sodomized by at least three of the male athletes at the party.

If you read between the lines here, you have a black woman of lower middle class being used as a sexual object for about 50 athletes who go to a school that is generally higher class. Three of the said athletes are allegedly committing a horrendous crime. Despite the fact that a hearing, trial or even filing of charges have yet to occur, the mentality around Durham, N.C., is that the defendants in question have a pretty decent shot at acquittal.

It’s between the lines where people raise their eyebrows. All the buzzwords are there: black, white, poor, rich, male, female. But it’s here where people also miss the point.

Chandra Y. Guinn, the director of the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture, was quoted on www.ESPN.com last week as saying, “The issues here go far deeper than a single incident. There are pockets of white privilege on this campus, pockets of class privilege.”

Travis Simons, a Duke student, was also quoted in the article as saying, “There’s an embedded white supremacy here.”

Both Guinn and Simons are rightfully upset.

The rest of the nation reading about the white upper-class athletes taking advantage of a lower-class black woman doesn’t exactly paint Duke as the model of equality. Perhaps Guinn and Simons are right.

I’ve never been to Duke, but it’s not hard to imagine a predominantly white, upper-class campus having race and class issues.

Northeastern, by comparison, is a fairly diverse campus, but even we were subjected to the “white privilege” attack last fall.

The danger in both Guinn and Simons’ arguments is that they’re trying to force the alleged rape into being an example for the aforementioned issues.

Remember, the 46 lacrosse players have yet to be charged, yet to be found guilty. But any honest person reading these quotes in the context of this story are bound to only assume the woman is telling the truth and the evil white upper-class males are wholly responsible. Hey, after reading the story, I assumed they were guilty. I still do. But that’s not right.

Speaking as a male, being accused of rape is a modern-day scarlet letter. Even if you’re found to be innocent, people remember and people wonder.

Personally, I have never been accused of rape.

But from hearing stories and reading quotes like the ones above, it’s not hard to conclude that it’s an enormously weighty and dangerous accusation. In our society’s valiant attempt to discourage rape, we’ve opened a can of worms that speaks horrible things about the gender gap.

If a woman accused a wealthy athlete of raping her, it’s easy to side with the woman. But it also raises the possibility the woman had consensual sex with the accused, then claimed it was rape for a big payday.

A similar scenario played out during the Kobe Bryant scandal. It’s disgusting, but it happens.

Equally disconcerting is the “she was asking for it” defense. The woman involved in the Duke scandal claimed she was paid $400 to perform as a stripper.

Now, I’m not so callous to claim she was asking for it. Nobody asks to be raped. But common sense should come into play. The woman should have brought a bodyguard. Or she should have rejected the job offer in the first place. I don’t know what reasons led her to make the decisions she made, but, again, common sense should be a factor.

That’s not to excuse what may or may not have happened on March 13, but as long as we’re turning this into a social issue, the message should be sent to society – to women in particular – to exercise common sense where rape can be avoided. It’s sad we live in a society where women have to take such precautions, but that’s the society in which we live.

What happened at Duke could happen at any campus, whether it’s predominantly black or white, upper or lower class, male or female. And therein lies the danger in assuming guilt of the lacrosse players this early. By assigning them the evil white rich male tag, they’ve been attached a stigma that can’t be removed, even if they are proven to be innocent.

Rape is not a class issue. It’s not a race issue. It’s not even a gender issue. It’s a despicable crime and sadly one of the certain evils of our society. For all the “Take Back the Nights” and other such events, rape will remain.

No wonder people want to make it into a social issue. It’s too painful otherwise.

– Justin Rebello is a senior journalism major and a member of The News staff.

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