By Freedom Newspapers
From the beginning, the Duke lacrosse case felt more like a game than the pursuit of justice. Appearances suggest the prosecutor was playing for political gain. The voices of race-based outrage — whether they supported the African-American accuser or the white suspects — played for their respective causes.
In the spirit of competition, then, let’s take a look at the scoreboard to see who won and who lost.
We know the lacrosse players didn’t win. For them, the decision to drop the charges seems like a semi-vindication at best. They spent more than a year in society’s cross-hairs and now the shadow of the case will stick to them the rest of their lives. Also, the entire team effectively lost a season when the university disbanded the lacrosse program. Players who had no involvement in the rape accusations suffered for the alleged transgressions of their teammates (and at this point, “alleged” probably can’t be emphasized strongly enough).
Members of the news media didn’t emerge triumphant, either. They got plenty of material, but at what cost?
Depending on their viewpoints, many people will likely blame the media for either doing too much or too little. The common policy of keeping victims of sexual assault anonymous could take a beating as well.
Our newspaper, like other newspapers and broadcast outlets, tends not to name the accuser in such cases for a variety of reasons: the stigma attached to sex crimes; the possibility of a chilling effect on future victims reluctant to step forward; and other considerations.
Thanks to the accuser in this case, however, the temptation may arise to obey the knee-jerk impulse and simply ditch the finer points. While this debate may be one worth having, it shouldn’t come about as the result of such a thoroughly outrageous aberration of a case.
Count the public among the losers as well. This case has bred more cynicism about the justice system than any in recent memory. If we can’t trust officers of the court to do things on the up-and-up, what other public institution can we deem worthy of our trust?
At the outset, we talked about winners and losers. Here’s the surprise that isn’t a surprise: Because the system broke down in so many places, nobody won.
A game where nobody wins is a game that isn’t worth playing.