Thursday, September 17, 2009

Right and Wrong

My alma mater, Hofstra University, has been making the front page (and lead story on the TV news) these past few days owing to a gang rape that has turned out to be not that at all.

To recap the story as it stands right now for those not in the New York-Metro area, an 18-year-old Hofstra student claimed to have been gang-raped by five men in a bathroom stall in one of the Hofstra dorms at 3:00 a.m. Monday morning. She claimed that one of the men, whom she met while dancing in an on-campus club, took her cellphone away and used it to lure her into the dorm. Once in the dorm, the man was joined by a second and the two of them took her into a men's bathroom, tied her up in a stall, and raped her. Three more men, whom the woman first thought would help her, turned out to be friends of the first two and they also raped her.
After the incident, campus and local police were called and four of the five men, including one who was a Hofstra student, were identified and arrested.
Not surprisingly, the Hofstra staff and student body were shocked, appalled, and frightened for their safety. As campus security was increased, an investigation into the crime ensued and the search for the fifth man continued.
On Wednesday night, however, the shocking story took an unexpected turn. Confronted with the news that a video of at least part of the attack might exist, the woman recanted and said that the sex had been consensual. The D.A. dropped all charges, the four men were released from jail and the search for the fifth was cancelled. (In the meantime, however, the four men had their names and pictures plastered across the newspapers and on television, the modern equivalent of being locked in stocks in the town square.)
Hofstra has now suspended the woman, pending a disciplinary hearing, and the D.A.'s office us considering pressing charges. We do not know, as yet, why she lied or why she got into the situation to begin with.

One of the men in the case, upon being released, said that he was glad that justice had prevailed because he thought he was going to be put in prison for something he didn't do. Yes, that is the basic premise of our judicial system: Good and bad. Right and wrong. The guilty are punished and the innocent go free.
But just what is it that he didn't do? All four men admitted to having sex with the woman, though they insisted it was consensual. Does that make it right? In what society is it okay for four (or five, if there was in fact a fifth man) men to have sex in a bathroom stall with a woman? What is it that was lacking in these guys' upbringing that not one of them stopped and said, "Why am I doing this? Why are we doing this?" Or, at least, "What is the matter with this woman that she is doing this?"
One of the mothers, hugging her son after he was released from jail last night, proclaimed, "I knew my son was innocent." Well, ma'am, your son is not guilty of rape, but one would have a hard time arguing that he is innocent.

No one did the right thing in this case; there was just wrong and more wrong.


  1. I think this relates back to your "Miss Manners" post; if one is going to have sex with four partners at once, one should at least arrange refreshments, and a proper atmosphere. Not a ladies room stall. [SARCASM OFF].

    ITEM: I have no problem with grown adults doing what they want if no one gets hurt and everyone agrees... that's how Monopoly games get started.

    I know that sounds sarcastic, but the truth is, it's a valid point. On the night that this consensual... well, "gang bang" is the phrase I used to hear (never got invited to one myself... :) ), there were games of bridge and Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit played, DVD movies watched, pizza and other comestibles consumed, and all with consenting adults of both sexes.

    The only difference here - the greatest wrong about this - is that WE FOUND OUT ABOUT THE ITEM AT HOFSTRA THROUGH THE NEWS. Four innocent young men - okay, morally, all of 'em may have some checking to do, but I'm speaking legally - got PLASTERED all over everyone's media viewing. Do you think they could now get a fair trial for as much as a jaywalking violation? Do you think that any of them will ever be able to obtain an unbiased jury should they ever need one?

    I understand your point of view, Mr. R., and I understand your distaste at what happened. But the heinous crime here is that this was dragged kicking and screaming into the light by several media (not news - I won't dignify 'em by calling them news) who were irresponsible enough to want good ratings and a hot story over a woman's privacy, or the Constitution's promise of "innocent until proven guilty."

    And as no punch line to this horrific joke, you can just bet that any libel suit on this would get crushed like a grape under an elephant's foot.

    Welcome to 21st century America... guilty until proven innocent in a broadcast circus.

    I remain,
    Eric L. Sofer
    The Bad Clown

  2. It is interesting to note that, despite naming the four men and showing/printing their pictures, the media have been mostly quiet about the identity of the woman. Her name has appeared in a couple of news stories I've seen, but others continue "protect" her identity, and no photos of her have appeared.

    Unfortunately, guilty until proven innocent seems to be standard operating procedure in any crimes of a sexual nature. During my years at DC Comics, I sat through a number of Time-Warner corporate-mandated sexual harassment seminars. The premise was that the person claiming harassment was in the right and the accused was automatically guilty...unless he/she could prove otherwise. (As I recall, virtually all the examples presented had men doing the harassing and women as the victims.)

    As we have seen in this and other cases, the rush to judgment sometimes proves to be wrong.

    As far as libel suits, I'm sure there are attorneys who would be more than happy to sue their accuser for millions of dollars (which they most likely would never collect), but what does that do for the now-exonerated accused? Their cases would put them right back in the spotlight and you can be sure that the accuser's attorney would be doing his best to tear down their reputations.
    Instead, expunge their records and let them go on with their lives. And hope that they take away from it the lesson that taking part in a gang-bang in a dormitory bathroom, consensual or not, is not a smart thing to do.

  3. I think there are two concerns here. The first is yet again, as we saw in the Duke case, when these things are reported the men are considered guilty until proven innocent. Something has to change on that.

    Second, as far as 4 guys and 1 girl not having good sense or morals here, well, chalk another victory up for the pornification of society, where girls are now taught that being a slut is a good thing. Of course the boys like it... until its time to marry.

  4. Yesterday's New York Daily News included a column by Michael Daly, discussing the five men in this case. ( His comments echoed my own, including one about being not guilty but also not innocent.