Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Rape accusation against college athletes treated as if rape likely occurred

So, you think big time athletes accused of rape are invariably believed, excused, or given a free pass because they are athletes?

Can you say "Duke Lacrosse"?

In fact, you need not even go back as far as the Lacrosse case, when virtually the entire country assumed "something" must have happened in the "rape" house. In fact, you need not go back further than today. A prosecutor decided not to bring rape charges against three University of Arkansas players for an alleged incident at a fraternity due to a lack of evidence. But the frightening aspect to the story was the reaction to the initial, sparse report that three players were being investigated for rape. I've collected the pertinent articles, including a You Tube link of a television news story, here. Let me put it all in perspective:

When the story broke, a local television station actually cut into the regular programming to provide a four-plus minute breaking news report on the fact that an allegation was made. You heard that right: they cut into regular programming the way a reporter might cut in to tell us about a plane crash or that fact that a very important person had died. This station cut in to tell us that three young men were being investigated for rape -- not charged, investigated.

At At 3:30 into the television news report, the reporter reminds people about the Duke Lacrosse scandal. But then in the very next breath he made this bizarre comment: ". . . that three basketball players are involved doesn't speak well for what's happening with the University of Arkansas basketball program."

Do you get the implication? There's a problem with the program. He could not have said that if he believed the charge was false. Incredible, after he just finished reminding people after the false charges at Duke.

Worse are comments under the You Tube story. Someone wrote this: "And it begins again. . . . . I remember when several of Nolan’s players were under investigation in the 80s-90s. What is up with athletes thinking they can get away with this shit?" And later when it was announced that no charges would be filed, the same commentator wrote this: "No charges filed. What a shocker."

Nice, isn't it, that a commentator has taken it on himself or herself to adjudicate this case without bothering to know a single fact? That, of course, is an ingenious way to save taxpayers the expense of a silly old trial.

After it was announced that the players were being investigated, ArkansasSports360 reported the following: "Northwest Arkansas' KHBS/KHOG 40/29 is reporting that three Arkansas Razorback basketball players are involved in a rape that occurred at a campus fraternity house late last month."

Did you get that? Not an "alleged" rape, but "a rape that occurred." It is reported as a fact that rape occurred.

SEC Talk Forum put up this post: "Arky players in trouble." Their story starts as follows: "An ugly story is developing in Northwest Arkansas today."

"Ugly," because apparently a rape occurred. Not "ugly" because the claim might be false.

And then, even when the charges were dropped, a reporter wrote this: "The victim's attorney, John Bass, has told 5news earlier that he had been working with the Washington County Prosecuting Attorney's Office on the now closed investigation."

She's "the victim" even though there is insufficient evidence of a rape. Never mind that such a description does a grave disservice to (1) the presumed innocent who were, at that point, no longer even accused of rape. By necessity, they must be guilty if their accuser is, in fact, a "victim"; (2) actual rape victims, because we trivialize rape when we include among its "victims" women who might only be false accusers; and (3) the readers of the news story in question, who were entitled to accurate reporting but received something less than that when the reporter transformed an accuser into a "victim."

So there you have it. The mere accusation of rape against three college athletes was treated with an importance, a solemnity, and a gravity consistent with the likelihood that a rape occurred. It was as if the entire basketball program had been indicted. The allegation was not dismissed out of hand, nor was it treated cavalierly. The veracity of the unnamed accuser was not questioned. The story was covered as if the players were likely guilty. And that was by no means fair to the Arkansas basketball program or, specifically, the three players investigated.