Gaaah. I fell asleep last night to the dulcimer strains of talk radio host Michael Savage calling "Mary Doe," the complaining witness in the Duke lacrosse rape case, "the Durham dirtbag" and "the stripper slut." (My husband had turned the radio on and fallen asleep and I myself was too exhausted to get up and turn the thing off.) Somehow it's hard to feel rested when one has fallen asleep the night before in a rage. What amazes me is that Savage feels so strongly that the media and citizenry should apply the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard to the Duke lacrosse players but does not deem the woman worthy of the same privilege.
In particular, Savage was relying on the report of a security guard at a local convenience store who saw Mary Doe and her companion shortly after they left the Duke lacrosse party and before the police became involved. The security guard's report is in fact being trumpeted by all sorts of people as somehow proving that there was no rape. Even the headline in the ABC link stresses "Guard who saw alleged Duke victim says no sign or mention of rape." The guard said, "There ain't no way she was raped — ain't no way, no way that happened."
But guess what? The guard didn't even TALK to Mary Doe. And, in fact, I think if anything the security guard's report tends to corroborate Doe's rape claim. The guard says that Doe "couldn't talk at all. … She was out of it." When the police arrived later, they had to pry Doe out of the car as she gripped the brake shaft and held on tight to resist their efforts to pry her out. (The police came because the security guard had called 911 apparently because Doe's companion had reported that Doe was being hounded by people yelling racist insults.) The security guard left as the police were questioning Doe, and it was during this initial questioning by the police that Doe reported the rape.
To me, the guard's statement-- despite the guard's completely irrelevant and baseless personal opinion -- seems to CORROBORATE Doe's claims. From where I sit, it sounds like Doe was acting like someone who was absolutely terrified. She was not acting like someone who was eager to set up the Duke lacrosse players.
The guard's opinion is further fascinating to me because it illustrates very clearly the problems rape victims face. The guard for some reason felt herself qualified just by looking at Doe to determine whether Doe had been raped-- and felt no hesitation about essentially labeling her a liar. I have seen this time and again. Victims with whom I have worked have frequently been labeled as liars because they are not acting the way a rape victim is "supposed" to act. Therefore they become suspect even to their friends and neighbors. For whatever reason -- and I wouldn't have believed this myself before I went into criminal prosecution -- people are automatically inclined to disbelieve women who allege rape. That, my friends, is an injustice and one that seems to be applied disproportionately to women crime victims.
OTHER ISSUES: DNA EVIDENCE OR LACK THEREOF
Another area where we don't know the whole story is the significance of the initial DNA tests. I don't know whether the lack of any DNA link thus far tends to exonerate the defendants or to what extent. Ampersand over at Alas, A Blog has conducted some research. It appears, based on his questioning of DNA experts, that the lack of a DNA link does not establish that the victim is lying about the rape; the lack of DNA evidence may, however, raise doubt about whether a rape occurred depending on a variety of different factors such as whether a condom was used, whether the victim cleaned herself off in some way after the rape, or how many men were involved. It is also possible that more sophisticated DNA testing may provide further information down the road. The bottom line is that the lack of DNA evidence in this case does not prove that she is lying, nor will we be able to even assess it preliminarily until we get a lot more information, probably not until the court trial.
OTHER ISSUES: EYEWITNESS IDENTIFICATION
It is probably obvious that I am inclined to believe Mary Doe's report that she was raped. As a private citizen and blogger, I have the right to reach my own conclusions prior to trial with the understanding that, of course, I don't know the whole story and am relying only on the press reports.
That is not to say, however, that I am necessarily inclined to believe that the individuals who have been indicted are the guilty parties. My understanding is that the key evidence against them is that they were present at the Duke lacrosse party and that the victim identified them from some sort of line up. This concerns me because eyewitness identification in cases where the perpetrator is a stranger can be very unreliable. I would want to know a lot more about how much face-to-face contact and conversation she had with the rapists prior to and during the rape, and under what circumstances. How was the lighting? How long did she get a look at them? Was she under the influence of any drugs or alcohol? How much time went by between the rape and the line up? What was it that made her so sure these were the guys? Did they have any distinctive characteristics or marks that she was able to identify? Etc. etc.