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The big tragedy of the Duke Lacrosse Scandal

I was being cheeky when I said to my husband, "If you happen to be really dysfunctional and want to find a jerk, a frat house is always a good bet; you're sure to find a jerk there. In fact, rich, white, male, and frat boy or athlete in college is a pretty good list of qualifications for upping the jerk potential."

We were talking about the Duke lacrosse-Nifong scandal's latest update.

In reply, he snorted at me in disgust and raised his eyebrows at my audacity with such a blanket statement.

It's a stereotype---bordering on prejudice---and overlooks the fact that if you want to find a jerk (male or female) you can look in almost any socioeconomic class and location and find one, if you try hard enough.

But in my experience, there are certain organized groupings of people that foster really bad choices and behavior with alarming frequency, college athletic groups and fraternities among them.

And no matter how moral you are, it is disturbingly easy to get swept up with it, especially if you are worried that a position, which for some reason feels vital to you, is at risk.

Take my Dreadful to the Nth Power Job.

Our office was practically on MIT's campus, and the overwhelming majority of the staff boasted diplomas of one sort or another from there. In fact, that's how the company got started: some MIT buddies designed and got seed money for a truly innovative software program. We used to joke---based on the number of MIT grads and proximity to campus---that the staff had never really left college. The light-hearted, casual and fun approach was initially enjoyable. How nice to be with fun people! How nice to be a part of a close group!

But I slowly started to notice a few things. Men got offices; women got cubes. It had a real frat house atmosphere with crude jokes and beer in the fridge. The women tended to be segregated into one area, on one team, while the men (the majority) held domain over the rest of the office. Most of the men were nice, a pleasure to work with. But the Big Boss? Not so much.

When he turned 30, some of the guys thought it was GREAT! idea to hire a stripper. We women huddled in our cube cluster and whispered about it. I think each one of us knew that if we squawked, we'd be even more marginalized. I think it says a lot that we all spent every second working hard to rationalize why this did not need to be a big deal. I think it says a lot about our fear level.

My husband was appalled when he heard, and even more appalled when he found out I wasn't screaming. This did not jibe with his image of me. The more he poked and pushed, the more I rationalized. He finally gave up in disgust.

In the end, it was one of the guys who squawked. A nice lower level engineer, who was relegated to the cube farm with us. He put his foot down and said no, this was not cool. The senior management appealed to the women, asked us to let him know we were okay with it...put a little pressure on him to lighten up. When I protested saying he had a right to his opinion, I was told this wasn't a request.

Ultimately the stripper plan prevailed and the protestor stalked out. When I saw the girl arrive, I felt literally nauseated. She looked so unhappy and uncomfortable. I felt compelled to walk over to her, ask if she needed anything, shake her hand...which was like ice. She tried for bravado, but to tell the truth, it was a pretty thin act.

The atmosphere that fell over the office was terrifying. The guys were so pumped up, so excited (in every meaning of the word).

It was easy to be caught up in the "joke" all while feeling sick and disgusted, more than a little disturbed.

After her act---done in the boss's office---she left relatively quickly although most of the guys heavily pressured her to stay for a drink. After she was gone, the truly inappropriate talk began.

It was more than clear how---and what---they thought of her. And that's the moment when I realized that a lot of them really didn't see women as equal humans. That's when I finally realized with sick heart that they objectified women as service objects of one sort or another. That's when I realized how I had also behaved grossly and enabled it. That's when I realized I had long ago begun believing I had no choices here, and thus it was past time to leave. I began job hunting, but was so gunshy, I saw red flags at every interview. My headhunter despaired, all while she understood.

The behavior at that office by the men became so egregious that I ultimately left before I found another job, with a sexual harassment payoff (which didn't come half near enough for my pain and suffering), as did a large number of other women. But I learned a lot, not all of it good.

I learned that groups of people can egg one another along and help one another rationalize horrible behavior, especially labeling it "just in fun." I learned that as the leader goeth, so goeth the followers. I learned that fear can make you agree to things you never would otherwise.

It's not too hard---having witnessed obnoxious, out of control guys salivate over a stripper, laughing excitedly, and pressuring her to "stick around for a while"---to imagine what that stripper at the Duke lacrosse party had to deal with.

I'm glad the injustice of a false criminal accusation of rape was cleared up, but that doesn't make those athletes lily white and innocent in my book. They had a party with underage drinking and strippers. I'm sure the behavior there was way below gentlemanly. At the least. In my opinion, any punishment any of them has received (such as suspension---not the media massacre and false accusations) is fair due for what they did do.

The truth is, they made a heap of poor choices, and hopefully they have realized that. It amazes me that the poor sobbing boy on the stand was only concerned that his mother would learn he'd been charged with rape. Did he cry when he realized he'd have to tell her he'd been drinking, partying and paying a woman to remove her clothes at a party? Did she cry when she realized this? If not, why not?

I sincerely hope it had nothing to do with the idea that "boys will be boys."

Although I have gone along with this thought, probably more often than I like to admit or recall---such as at the office stripper party---this line of thinking is completely unacceptable to me now. This sort of thing should not be passed off, rationalized, overlooked, or tolerated.

That is very likely exactly where the prosecutor, Mike Nifong, and the rape accuser were coming from when they pursued the action they did.

That girl should not have falsely cried rape. She set a poor precedent, and took the rape movement back a few steps.

Mike Nifong should never have done the things he did. I think Reade Seligmann is right when he says Nifong was doing this on purpose, maliciously, to him and his friends.Resignation and disbarrment is a fair turn of events. Nifong's handling of the case was gross misconduct, set a very poor precedent, and took the rape movement back a few steps.

I do not understand the actions of either Nifong or the accuser, but I do understand what impelled them: too many women abused by too many men, too much injustice due to privilege, too often stuck seeing and hearing stories that are bad enough even without a crime attached. One day, there can come a point at which you say, "Enough. We have to send a message; this sort of thing cannot continue. This cannot be tolerated any longer."

Although few of us have the power or authority to do anything about it, some, such as this woman and Nifong, do. I could only collect money and walk away from that job and that career. She could accuse these men of a crime, and Nifong could pursue criminal prosecution. They misused their power, no doubt about it. Still, after things I've seen and experienced, I can understand the impulses that drove them to bypass good choices and make poor ones in pursuit of punishment for people (speaking generally) that these particular lacrosse players represented. Players who, although exonerated of rape, still do not deserve the label "innocent" in my book.

Nevertheless, Nifong and the woman deserve the consequences of this dishonesty. That's truly unfortunate because this case will be in every involved mind the next time a woman---especially a stripper or similar---cries rape, esepcially against nice-looking, clean cut athletes. Criminal investigation and prosecution should proceed carefully and thoroughly, assertively, but not doggedly. I am highly concerned, however, that caution will supercede progression, after this.

And that's the big tragedy of the Duke lacrosse rape scandal.


Kyla said…
I completely agree with you. I think you said it perfectly.
S said…
Yep. I think you're right that this case will end up adversely impacting the prosecution of future rape cases.

It's a damn shame.
Unknown said…
It's just all bad, isn't it? I've cringed over all of this, and like you, regret that there are those who won't take this case as one but will use it to suit their prejudices.
Christine said…
oh julie. it is awful that you had to see all that and witness the disgusting behavior of those men in your workplace. sadly, it is too common as you've pointed out. i'm sure we all have seen similar, inappropriate behavior in our lives. i know i certainly have, and i shudder to think of it.

this whole duke scandal is sickening for all the reasons you listed above. it makes my heart so sad.
Aliki2006 said…
The Duke scandal has made its mark, that's for certain. When I was serving on jury duty last week Nifong was appearing before his peers in the same courthouse and there was lots and lots of discussion. I was dismayed at how people are viewing the case--not because they are being unfair, but because of the precedent it has now set.

Well said.
I cringed when the tables were turned on the prosecutor. It now appears that there was not enough evidence, in the legal sense. This doesn't mean that there wasn't fire where the stripper saw smoke. All in all, the entire event was reprehensible.

It appears that some economically privileged young men hired a woman to strip and did have sex with her. That fact should never be forgotten. These are still not innocent young men. They abused their economic privileges to take sexual advantage of a woman. Sex, whether imagined (stripping) or actual, for hire should not be permitted. Not for moral reasons, but for socioeconomic ones. From time immemorial, men have had the social status and power to be able to purchase sexual behavior from women. This should end.

Granted many other things would have to end first, or concurrently.

But I don't call visiting upon the Duke lacrosse ruffians a little unpleasantness as a result anything close to a "tragedy."

To my lights, Nifong deserves a medal.
Julie Pippert said…
Kyla, thanks.

SM, yes, sadly, probably so.

M-L, it really is tragic all the way around. That girl was offended (by which I don't *just* mean she felt offense) by something. It made her feel raped or feel the need to cry rape. That's not all on her. It's a shared responsibility. The initial reports from her at the ER were horrifying. Then back and forth and ultimately confusion. Nifong was so convinced he bypassed protocol. It's why I can understand where they came from, all while feeling sick at the path they took.

And yes, lasting prejudicial impact.

Christine, that stripper story is the least of that workplace. The things that happened---culminating in a final event where I finally told my boss, very tiredly, fine so fire me---were so egregious that if there were not public record from my coworker (who left after me and filed a lawsuit in the public courts instead of settling internally as I did) I don't think anyone would believe it. I might need to blog about it sometime. It's all actually a part of a psychological study, published in a respected journal, too.

Oh Aliki, so you saw it firsthand...see already the impact we fear is true? YIKES!

Julie Pippert said…
Cecileaux, from my experience, I learned that you can say yes out of fear or pressure when you really mean no. I hate that the line is so black and white; yes is considered consent regardless of circumstance.

I'm sure that girl felt like she had a lot of choice with 40 lacrosse players around her.

You bring up privilege which is so relevant. I do think circumstances matter. Those boys had power, the total advantage. Position, numbers and size/strength.

I can just imagine her thinking, "Well I can go along with it and have it be less worse...they're going to do it anyway."

I agree; I feel little sympathy for those boys, and was happy to hear male opinions that agreed with me.

My husband, in fact, made the point that he somehow made it through college and to this point in life (with fun and good times) without demeaning a woman that way.

Excellent comment.
thailandchani said…
I really believe it is time for the culture to evolve beyond seeing women as sex (or service) objects in any respect.

How this will happen is beyond me to figure out. I just know it needs to be. It's time. In all arenas.


Julie Pippert said…
Chani, eliminating the idea and phrase, "boys will be boys" is probably a good start. Not accepting negative gender stereotypes as inevitable is another.

My husband is case in point. As he said, he never needed to have a party a la lacrosse.

We absolutely just plain need to quit tolerating it.

I got a comment via email that I wish was put up publically. Anyway, One point in it was that comparitively, the Duke lacrosse team, as non-innocent as they might be, look positively fair by comparison of other crime in that area.

We can't triage that way, IMO. Judge by comparison.

Things can simply be bad in and of themselves.

I agree: it's past time to quit considering women service objects, whether it is stripping, selling with their bodies, providing sex, or simply doing tasks more typically relegated to females, and so forth.
As to the how, may I recommend a very thorough democratizing of the economy? When women are no longer predominantly disadvantaged, they will cease being automatically exploitable.
Magpie said…
Great post, Julie. It's been a way fraught case.
Lawyer Mama said…
Julie - I'd love to read a blog about your workplace. I'm absolutely horrified and sickened by what you went through.

I'm also disgusted by what's happened in the Duke rape case. I agree that prosecutions of rapes have been set back. Part of that blame lies with the prosecutor though, I'm afraid.

I completely understand *why* he was overzealous in this case. But in my opinion he deserves to be disbarred. While I'm sure he was well intentioned, there is little room for a gray area when it comes to the code of ethics which govern lawyers. In withholding exculpatory evidence, he clearly breached his ethical and legal duties. I believe his heart was in the right place, but overzealous prosecutors should not be tolerated. When that happens mistakes are made, innocent people sometimes go to jail and guilty people are never found.

Of course, another interesting facet to this case is a major reason the prosecutor was scrutinized to such an extent is because he went after upper class white boys. What if the boys had been poor and black?
Julie Pippert said…
Ooooohhhh LM! That is my BIGGEST hot button.

When we were discussing this (me and my husband) I said this was definitely a race and privilege issue, as well.

I think benefit of the doubt is not applied fairly and equally, representation is often economically based, and outrage is reserved for the privileged white class.

Consider what criminals are shown versus what victims are publicized, you know?

Someone a while blogged about Katrina in the media.

Two identical photos of men trudging through waist deep waters with bags in their heads.

Under the black man the caption read something about looters looting. Under the white man something about victims fighting to save their lives and precious possesions. The bias inherent in that? Oy.

ITA with you (duh, big post about it above us LOL) about the egregiousness of Nifong's overzealous prosecution.

But my outrage comes from so many people being so outraged that these poor, poor boys were so traumatized. As I said, they aren't that innocent.

Although as my sister called to COMMENT to me on the PHONE even though I altered my comment settings JUST FOR HER (LOL)...immorality is usually not illegal. In this case, as I reminded her, though, it was.

So Les...? ;)
Anonymous said…
I am literally in awe of the whole stripper story. I cannot imagine that there are idiots out there that think that's even the slightest bit appropriate.

Makes me sad for humanity.
Anonymous said…
My mother-in-law said that we ought to teach our children that being at parties like the one at Duke is unacceptable period. You do not associate with people of low morals.

In general I would agree with you about fraternities, but not absolutely-I married a frat boy. Admittedly, his fraternity was the anti-fraternity. It was back in the day at a small school where men and women related to eachother with what is considered an old fashioned archaic idea, mutual respect.
Anonymous said…
A friend of mine once asked if I had ever been to see male strippers. She said it was empowering. But I feel like paying anyone to take his or her clothes off is dehumanizing for all involved. It is not different from rape in kind, just in degree.

I am happy for people to take their clothing off for free, of course.
Anonymous said…
Excellent post. Part of the problem, however, is that as long as some women continue to allow themselves to be objectified--strippers, prostitutes, and more--men will still go on thinking it's OK to objectify women. It's on all of us--men and women alike--to put a stop to that.

I just read an interesting follow-up to the Duke story--excerpts from the book "Until Proven Innocent." That what took place in the name of justice in this case could happen in our day and age should alarm us all.
Anonymous said…
Excellent post. Part of the problem, however, is that as long as some women continue to allow themselves to be objectified--strippers, prostitutes, and more--men will still go on thinking it's OK to objectify women. It's on all of us--men and women alike--to put a stop to that.

I just read an interesting follow-up to the Duke story--excerpts from the book "Until Proven Innocent." That what took place in the name of justice in this case could happen in our day and age should alarm us all.

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