"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Duke "rape" case

As Thomas Sowell has pointed out, the collapsing Duke rape case is all about the career of the prosecutor, Michael Nifong. At first the case was about advancing his career. Now it's about saving it: after being caught lying, he'll be lucky to avoid disbarment. But the explanation why he fadged up this thing in order to advance his career says some disturbing things about our society.

Nifong is DA in Durham, NC, a city where I have intermittently worked. Its voters are mostly liberal, black, or both in a relatively conservative state. An interim DA in danger of losing last fall's election to an opponent whom he had once fired from the DA's office, Nifong didn't want to end up being fired himself. So as a way of appealing to the voters, he took the stripper's allegations at face value, played them up in the media, and suppressed all contrary evidence. The disgusting thing about that was not merely that he was willing to destroy the lives of four young men to secure his position. Crushing people on one's way to the top is so common that outrage about it in this case could only be selective. That says something bad enough about our society. What's even worse is that he had good reason to think he could get away with it—and almost did.

The four young men he charged are white and privileged: athletes at a top university. Their alleged victim was a black female. I don't think the students were admirable: hiring a stripper for a boozy party is not the sort of thing that calls for defense. But Nifong's constituency was not only ready but all too eager to believe that the students were guilty; if it hadn't been, Nifong would not have got the case off the ground and might not even have been elected. As things turned out, his demogoguing of the case turned off enough voters to make turnout higher, and the election closer, than such things normally are. But does anybody imagine that a rape case would have been an issue in that election if the race and class of those involved had been the reverse of what they are? A few generations ago, it sure would have: a a group of black men alleged to have raped a privileged white woman would have been lucky to make it to trial alive, much less be exonerated. But nowadays the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction that the Duke students were the ones whose lives were almost destroyed, and will have been seriously disrupted even in the best-case scenario. The injustice Nifong did to them is of the same kind as the old kind. Thank God it wasn't of the same degree: they weren't lynched, and in the end enough people care about the truth to have stopped the injustice.

Still, this is not just about race and class. I don't think it's even primarily about that. It's primarily about gender. Why is it that a woman known to be sexually promiscuous can make a rape accusation against men with no criminal record and be taken seriously enough to drag a case out for months when even the prosecutor knows there is no good supporting evidence for the prosecution? The explanation is that nowadays—whether it's in the family courts, the media, or just in broken relationships—men are presumed guilty until proven innocent and women are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Such is the dark side of the gains made by the women's movement over the last generation. The idea seems to be that men are dogs, and that's bad, while it's good for women to be bitches, even though they aren't, really.

Still, I've begun to observe that it isn't just men who are getting tired of that cultural meme. Millions of women, mirabile dictu, still love the men in their lives and are disgusted by what's become the fashionable demonization of men. Perhaps one can hope for another swing of the pendulum. One must pray for it.
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