Duke rape case/Blaming the victim, again

By Tyneisha Bowens and Laura Bickford
Raleigh FIST

April 18, 2007--The infamous “Duke Lacrosse Rape Case” has once again taken the media forefront and divided the U.S. Last week's decision to drop the sexual assault charges against the three Duke University men has rattled communities and weakened the survivor's support system. Here in North Carolina the responses and effects regarding the decision are the most extreme.

Given this dynamic, the women of Raleigh FIST (Fight Imperialism-Stand Together) youth group have come together to reflect on the year-long case and last week's decision.

The majority of the attention given to this case has focused on only one question, that question being “Was she raped?” There is much debate over this question.

So much so in fact that it has overshadowed the underlying issues of the case. Race, sex and class are all parts of this case and of sexual violence in general. This country has had an extensive history of abuse and degradation of women of color and still does.

Since the enslavement of African people became an industry, women of color have been subjected to sexual and racial exploitation by white men in this country. It is evident that the justification of this behavior is still present in our society.

This tradition of white male supremacy has created a culture of rape in which women and our bodies are regarded as property and therefore up for grabs by any man. And though this rape culture existed long before this specific case, the decision to drop the sexual assault charges has worsened the situation.

Since the dropping of charges last week the media has been engaged in what can only be called a modern day witch hunt, labeling the survivor a liar while raising the three previously accused white men to sainthood. Both local and national media are printing articles exposing the survivor's identity and exploiting her past. Irrelevant information about the survivor can be found on almost every media outlet.

This media backlash against the survivor is directly influenced by racism, sexism and class stratification. Evidence of this can be seen in evaluating the differences in how the survivor and the three men have been portrayed.

Very little attention was paid to the sordid pasts of the three men, even when they were facing rape and sexual assault charges. But now that the media can legally report the survivor's identity, her entire history is being divulged.

This dynamic shows that a survivor's humanity can be used against her or him. It seems as though a survivor has to be perfect (in the standards of a white Western culture) in order to be taken seriously. It also shows that accused perpetrators are not really the ones on trial.

The slanderous media rant is not just a reflection of the current cultural climate for survivors; it is also an indicator of how the climate of white male supremacy in which survivors have to live is worsening for all oppressed people. The decision to drop the charges is not just about this case; it influences every survivor of sexual violence.

This Duke decision is meant to silence all women and it isolates survivors from any sense of community and support. By systematically isolating women in this manner, and using sexual violence to do so, the capitalist, patriarchal-dominated society we live in is attempting to mute the oppressed in order to perpetuate white male privilege. The message being sent is that if you are a rich white male you can do anything to anyone and not be held accountable.

But there is hope and the women of Raleigh FIST want our message to be heard by all survivors. There are organizations and movements that are working to stop sexual violence and combat rape culture. In order to bring the truth about sexual violence to the attention of the world, a coalition of organizations in North Carolina is putting together a march entitled “Creating A World Without Sexual Violence, National Day of Truthtelling. This march is taking place on April 28, 2007, in Durham, N.C.

For more information call 919-682-8089 or visit

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