Race, class, rape

Mainstream press picks up full story of allegations against members of Duke's lacrosse team.

Lynn Harris
March 29, 2006 7:57PM (UTC)

Last night, I was crafting a post in my head about how it seemed as if "no one" except blogs, local papers and SI.com (via the Associated Press) had covered the race and class issues raised by the recent allegations of gang rape against members of Duke University's No. 2-ranked lacrosse team. But this morning, I was pleasantly surprised to see the story get front-page, and fairly thorough, coverage by the New York Times. Details that ABC, for one, missed yesterday include the fact that the alleged victims were black (and all of the accused white), that they were reportedly taunted with racial slurs when they started dancing and when they tried to leave (a witness outside has corroborated this), and that the woman who claims she was raped is a full-time student at North Carolina Central University who'd taken the escort/dancer job to help support her two children. (I'm not saying that a stripper without isn't-that-nice student and kid credentials -- or, for that matter, a drunken white girl -- would have, by contrast, deserved what she got. I'm just saying that these are the kind of important textural and contextual details that often go unexplored.)

Speaking of context, the AP did offer this illuminating observation: "The case has roiled the campus, raised racial tensions and heightened antagonism between the affluent students at Duke, which costs about $43,000 a year, and the city of Durham, which has a large population of poor people and is about evenly divided between white and black."


The team, by the way, maintains its innocence.

Just one thing about the coverage remains stuck in my craw: While I don't mean to diminish the fact that the Times gave this story front-page treatment, I find it interesting that the piece continued ... where? In the sports section. (And that CNN.com's coverage was in SI.com.) Yes, I know lacrosse is a sport, and that Duke is good at it. And that some argue that such attacks arise, at least in part, from a sort of macho team-think particular to elite sports squads. Further, I don't mean to say that sports sections shouldn't cover the story, or to suggest, somehow, that women don't read them. But clearly this story, however it plays out, is about more than sports. After all (as I once heard someone say about a similar story a few years ago that got comparable treatment), if Julia Child had killed someone, would it have been covered in the food section?

Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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