Guilty until proven innocent
In 2006, members of the predominately white Duke University Lacrosse team were charged with the sexual assault of Crystal Gail Mangum. Miss Mangum was hired as an exotic dancer for a gathering of players of the lacrosse team. At some point during her time with these young men, there was a disagreement about the terms of her employment. The young men had been drinking and made requests of her that she was uncomfortable with. When she and her friend decided to leave the party, there was a heated, bigoted exchange between her and several of the young men.
After removing herself from what she felt was a dangerous situation, and still upset, she called the police and reported that she had been sexually assaulted. Thus began the frenzy.
When the case broke, the local district attorney, running for reelection, launched a crusade in the name of “justice.” The ensuing firestorm garnered national attention and embroiled the University, the local community, and the entire nation in a battle charged with racism, white privilege, greed, poverty, and lies.
When the smoke cleared and the TRUTH prevailed, it was revealed that no criminal assault had taken place, although of course there was behavior from everyone involved that was less than admirable. In fact, there was illegal activity from the district attorney and his office. He personally kept hidden exculpatory evidence during the investigative phase. Mangum was also less than truthful. With vigilante fervor, they led the lynch mob, seeking a trial by popular opinion. Consequently, the reputation and careers of some Duke faculty members were damaged and the accused suffered character assassination and financial loss.
The media attention that is focused on the highest profile cases is cased by the underlying need to sell newspapers and gain media audience share. The media’s public concern is not driven by a search for truth. In the Duke case, the fact that there was no crime only served to persuade people that perhaps most reported cases of sexual assault are false, driven by hidden motives.
Rape is a violent, devastating attack on more than just a person’s physical being. However, the nature of such violations must never mean that the accused be presumed guilty before our judicial processes are allowed to reach their conclusions. The nature of sexual assault also means that the victim must not be considered a false reporter until the evidence proves such. Crime statistics suggest that the number of falsely reported attacks is no higher than it is for other violent crimes, in spite of what the highest profile cases may suggest.
The problem, however, affects a demographic younger than students at University. Young adults of high school age are also susceptible to sexual assault. The recent revelations regarding sexual assaults at Phillips Exeter Academy exposes the truth that there are no age barriers that stop these crimes. As previously stated, violence is not limited by pecuniary boundaries.
The following story from this author’s local community, involving students at a school that will never garner national attention, reiterates the fact that this problem remains unbounded.
“He was a popular player on my high school football team. I didn’t really know him. My best friend at the time had a big crush on him. One night, I stayed with her and we snuck out to see him. The night before Thanksgiving we decided to sneak out again. He picked me up at my house after I crawled out my basement window. I had no idea that my life was about to change; I would be a completely different person when I returned.
On the way to pick up my best friend, this young man confiscated my cell phone and altered our route and destination. He pulled into the darkened lot of our school district’s offices. He parked and locked the doors! I am petite. He is not. He overpowered me and forced me into the backseat of his car and removed my clothes, overcoming my resistance.
Nobody understands the amount of shock your body endures when you get raped. Emotionally, you become numb. Physically, you feel nothing. This nothingness and numbness are still with me.
When he was finished, he acted like it was a normal thing and drove me home. He reminded me that his father works for the Normal Police Department and not to “cry rape.” When I reentered my home through that basement window, I was not the same innocent young woman that I was before. Overwhelmed, I stood in the warmth of the shower for two hours, still numb, still feeling nothing.
The next morning, my mom’s intuition told her I was different. The secret of what had happened in one night to change me was revealed. She accompanied me to BroMenn Regional Medical Center, where the staff performed all necessary procedures to gather evidence. They were successful in identifying his DNA. The most difficult part of the entire year-long ordeal was recounting, on video, for strangers, the minutiae of my attack. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do.
My attacker accepted a plea bargain and was ordered to register as a sex offender for twenty-four months. He was given twelve months probation and required to attend sex offender counseling. He attacked me, he changed me forever, and he gets FUCKING COUNSELING. To be honest, I wished far worse for him. My virginity was stolen by him. I was called a liar, a slut, and my character was questioned. Additionally, for two years I had to walk the same hallways as this “popular” guy. It did not seem fair.
Those few moments with that monster changed me in ways that I still do not understand. He robbed me of healthy sexual attitudes and took more than my innocence that night; he cracked a part of my spirit. However, I was not broken. Counseling throughout high school allowed me to progress, slowly, to where I am today. Talking about this very personal trial, strengthens me in recovery and I hope that it will help other victims in their journey.
I will never be the same. I am a survivor.”
This barbarism impacts the wrongfully accused and the justifiably prosecuted. It also possesses the power to indelibly change the lives of the false accuser or the horribly victimized. There is never a winner in any of these cases. Regardless of where the truth leads, there are only survivors.
This blog is intended for young women of high school and college age, and meant to illuminate the complexities and prevalence of sexual assault.