- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 15, 2006

Sex. Wealth. Race. If you’re selling these in TV shows like “Girls Gone Wild,” America is buying. But what is at stake when college boys go wild and the media goes wilder is more than cheap entertainment. As The Washington Times’ columnist Suzanne Fields noted in April (“Black and White at Duke,” Commentary, April 13), a “rush to judgment is always a rush in the wrong direction.”

The media’s coverage of the Duke Lacrosse players accused of rape by a woman hired to dance at a March 13 party raises important questions about the rights of the accused in America. The ever-enthusiastic media has jumped at the opportunity to discuss problems with partying on college campuses and promoted dialogue about race and socioeconomic issues between universities and their communities. These issues are important to discuss, however one glaring aspect of this case has yet to be addressed. Is justice served by current rape laws that shield the identity of the accuser and not the accused?

What has been a dream for reporters has been a nightmare for the three young students. Their names have been dragged through the mud, and their lives will never be the same, whatever the outcome of this case.

Most jurisdictions in the United States have adopted some form of a rape shield statute. Mechanisms are put in place to protect the privacy and rights of a rape victim. Keeping the victim’s identity confidential allows these women to feel comfortable reporting the crime. No such protection exists for the men charged.

Many may deplore the suggestion that those accused of rape need protection, but those who believe in the established U.S. justice system should think differently.

False accusations do occur. Numerous studies, including a police surveys based on DNA, find that 25 to 50 percent of rape allegations are false. A 1993 Newsweek article reported that a third of DNA scans done in rape investigations do not match. Fox News has reported that, in recent FBI studies of rape, DNA is inconclusive or a nonmatch in nearly 40 percent of cases.

What this scandal at Duke has shown is that the rights of the alleged assailants are on shaky ground. These boys were innocent until accused, not innocent until proven guilty. The damage to their reputation cannot be undone. Before any official trial, those accused of rape are tried in the media.

Add to the media circus the grandstanding district attorney, Mike Nifong. Mr. Nifong continually overstated the state’s case, playing on the emotions of Durham County residents — those who would vote in the district attorney election. In this situation, the reputations of the accused were sacrificed for what some might call a political campaign. This is completely unacceptable.

If the players are found guilty, people might say they deserved the media attention. Recent information suggests these boys may be innocent. The case seems to be unraveling and a conviction appears much less certain.

Enthusiastic women’s rights groups and well-meaning rape awareness programs have created a society that judges before the facts are heard. The gruesome details of actual rapes have blinded us to the consequences of assuming every woman who claims rape is telling the truth. Are we really so eager to protect true victims that we allow men to take the fall for acts they did not commit? This debate has become too one-sided and the situation at Duke may be the necessary incentive for change.

It is time we remember the basis of our justice system. We must acknowledge the social bias we have put in place and remember that calling rape does not entitle anyone to strip the alleged assailant of his rights.


A history and political science major at Duke University, Claire Thompson is a public policy intern this summer in Washington, D.C.

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