U should stand behind accuser, players

We must realize that we don’t have to abandon one side to support the other.

Duke University lacrosse players falsely accused of rape have put a national spotlight on the damage caused by reckless allegations.

Now three University football players are also facing rape charges. In the wake of the Duke experience, University officials have expressed support for the student athletes and have been restrained in sanctioning before the facts are determined.

In reaction, more than a thousand students have signed petitions protesting the University’s seemingly one-sided support for the football players.

The University should support the young woman and also the young men. The controversy is the result of a mistaken belief that we can only support one party. When the truth is unknown, objective, concerned persons can give support to each party and not take sides. This is the starting point of the scales of justice.

Some will say the alleged victim deserves more support because the allegations are serious and victims need to be believed. Others will say that the accused should get more because they should be innocent until proven guilty. Who’s right?

What if we give 100 percent support to the victim and stand 100 percent behind the students? As a therapist I had to confront this conundrum years ago. The truth is there is nothing compromised by fully supporting both parties.

Sexual assault victims have sometimes gotten “dragged through the mud” by insensitive police, defense attorneys or the media. We’re just beginning to understand mud on the accused.

The guilty get little sympathy, but imagine being innocent and charged with rape. The nightmare starts with being arrested, followed by humiliating strip-searches. While in jail, personal lives evaporate, jobs are lost and unattended responsibilities accumulate. Facing the possibility of prison, every dollar saved is diverted to bail and legal expenses.

If authorities haven’t suspended participation in classes or athletics, students are incapacitated by fear and stress. Academic and athletic performance is diminished, if not lost. Defamatory statements flood the media and hate messages arrive. Friends don’t know who or what to believe. Alleged offenders and victims alike are in the darkest chapters of their lives, and the case hasn’t even gone to trial.

“Innocent until proven guilty” is mostly a legal concept. Sometimes the court of public opinion has little relationship to judicial determination. In recent years, scores of people, wrongly convicted, have been released from prison after DNA has proven their innocence. Every miscarriage of justice leaves scars.

Understanding that, the North Carolina attorney general last week not only dismissed all charges against the Duke University students, he went two steps further. He said that the prosecution was reckless and that the students are innocent. While thousands in the Duke community are saying, “Sorry about that,” the three (now former) Duke students are asking, “Where do we go to get our reputations back?”

Rape victims and offenders are our daughters, sons, sisters or brothers. When we realize that we don’t have to abandon one party to support the other, we don’t have to worry about being on the wrong side.

Jon Brandt, MSW, is a University alumnus and former adjunct faculty member. Please send comments to [email protected].