A commissioned report on Duke University’s response to allegations that members of the Duke lacrosse team had gang-raped a North Carolina State University student was released Monday (news story here, full report in pdf format here). Although the report’s focus is on Duke’s initial response (which was judged too slow, and too dependent on second- and third-hand sources), this paragraph from the report is the reason it’s in the news:
After the victim of the alleged assaults was taken to the Emergency Room of the Duke Hospital in the early morning hours of March 14, having earlier told Durham police that she was raped and sexually assaulted by approximately 20 white members of a Duke team (a charge later modified to allege an attack by three individuals in a bathroom), the official report of the Duke Police Department was submitted and reviewed by the Duke Police Director, Robert Dean, at 7:30 a.m. on March 14.
And it’s not just the bloggers. Dan Abrams, on MSNBC’s “Abrams Report” on May 9th, described this story as follows:
A new independent report said the accuser in the Duke rape investigation initially said it was 20 players who raped her, then changed her story to three. Is it time for the D.A. to drop the charges?
I believe Mary Doe was raped at that party, as she claims – but I’m open to the possibility I’m mistaken. Nonetheless, this story – as damning as it sounds when you hear the headline version – doesn’t convince me, because it disintegrates into nothing on closer examination.
The claim that Mary Doe ever said she was raped by 20 men is substantiated by only one source – this police report (pdf link), written by officer Christopher Day. Day wrote:
The female was picked up at the Kroger on Hillborough Rd., and she was claiming that she was raped by approximately 20 white males at 610 N. Buchanan Street. [...]
The victim changed her story several times, and eventually Durham Police stated that charges would not exceed misdemeanor simple ass[ault] against the occupants of 610 N. Buchanan.
That may seem pretty damning. But on closer reading of the report, one thing stands out: Officer Day never heard Mary Doe say she’d been raped by 20 men, or change her story. In fact, he never met Mary Doe; the report makes it clear that Officer Day went to 610 North Buchanan when this report came in, and spent some time running down license plates to see who owned the cars parked on Buchanan. So this report is secondhand information at best, and perhaps third-hand or forth-hand.
To make matters worse, no police officer who directly heard Mary Doe say “I was raped by 20 men” is identified, or (so far) has come forward. And the Durham government doesn’t seem to be supporting Day’s version of events:
Durham City Manager Patrick Baker told Eyewitness News earlier Tuesday that he had never heard that she claimed 20 men had raped her. [...]
Baker is standing behind the city’s police officers, saying the Duke officer who wrote the report got secondhand information.
“He did not have a conversation with our officer,” Baker said in a telephone interview Tuesday night. “He did not have a conversation with the victim. He prepared his report based on conversations he overheard and the context of that conversation.”
So what has been reported as “the victim’s claim” is actually one campus cop’s interpretation of an overheard conversation between two other cops discussing their interpretation of Mary Doe’s statements in the earliest hours of the investigation. I don’t find that persuasive – and neither should a jury.
By the way, what shape was Mary Doe in to be giving testimony, in the first hours of the investigation? The same Duke University report quotes a different police officer – who, unlike Officer Day, spoke to Mary Doe in person:
One female member of the Duke Police Department, who was on the scene at the Emergency Department of the hospital and who attempted to calm down and reassure the young woman, saw that she was “crying uncontrollably and visibly shaken… shaking, crying, and upset.”
If any Durham police officer claims to have personally heard Doe say 20 men raped her – and so far, no officer has publicly made that claim – I still wouldn’t think much of the claim, especially if the police officer hadn’t been trained in interviewing traumatized victims. If a cop asks a victim “how many people were there,” and she answers “twenty,” the cop could easily interpret that as meaning “20 men raped me” – especially if the cop wasn’t taking the allegations seriously (because she’s a stripper, black, poor, seems dazed, etc). But Doe could have thought the cop was asking how many men were at the party. (InMyHumbleOpinion made a similar point in TalkLeft comments). Experts agree:
Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, a victim-rights group, said the first police officers to speak with a rape victim often don’t have the training and experience needed to accurately judge the merits of a complaint. [...] “It’s important to note that once the experienced folks got there and started investigating this, they found her story credible and concluded that a violent crime took place,” he said.
The Duke report did say a female campus police officer was at they hospital where police took the accuser after the party, and she descried her as “crying uncontrollably and visibly shaken … shaking, crying and upset.”
Such behavior, Berkowitz said, isn’t uncommon.
“Dealing with witnesses immediately after any trauma is terribly complicated,” he said. “They’re emotional. They’re not focused on the narrative. They’re focused on the sheer terror that they just went through, so folks who have experience at it get the knack for how to deal with them and how to ask questions and how to back off and give her a little time.”
On Abrams’ MSNBC show, Duke report co-author William Bowen carefully backed away from the certain-sounding language of his report:
I myself would not put a lot of emphasis on the difference between 20 and three. This was a large gathering of people. The woman claimed that she was badly treated, very badly treated, and then the specifics of the three people in the bathroom came out later.
Interviewed on the same show, former District Attorney Norm Early raised similar questions:
Right now we have a situation where we`re talking about an amorphous entity, the Duke Police Department, the Durham Police Department. Who said it? Under what circumstances did they allegedly hear this?
Were there others around who could have heard the same thing? Was this one of the individuals who was conveying to the victim the entire time that this was no big deal. It was not going anywhere by gesture or by mannerisms or just by their demeanor. [... It] could be very much like… we`re talking about her relating the story and saying there were 20 people involved, where there are a whole bunch of people involved and then she eventually gets to the point where she says three of them in a bathroom. That is entirely possible. And until you are able to narrow down who heard it and what they heard and under what circumstances they heard it, you are not going to be able to ascertain whether she`s talking about being raped by 20 people or raped only by the three.
The “let’s not leap to judgement, and by the way she’s obviously lying” crowd thinks this new story vindicates their view. But my guess is that – lacking any police officer who claims to have directly heard Mary Doe say “I was raped by twenty men” – this story will go nowhere. And even if an officer does come forward, the possibility that Doe, due to shock and trauma, simply wasn’t speaking in a clear or organized fashion can’t reasonably be dismissed.
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Looking at this latest story from a broader perspective, this is an example of what I think of as “The Platonic Rape Victim Fallacy” – the idea that there is a single, correct fashion in which all True Rape Victims behave. If a rape victim acts in any other way – for example, in in the earliest hours after the rape she fails to produce a simple, coherent, well-organized narrative when talking to police – then according to the Plationic Rape Victim Fallacy, she wasn’t raped at all. I’ll post more later on the Platonic Rape Victim Fallacy, which comes up frequently in discussions of the Duke rape case, and in most other publicly-discussed rape cases.
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