Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Jacob Kryzsiak, Associate Editor of Student Publications, English, ’18

In 2006, three lacrosse players from Duke University—Collin Finnerty, David Evans, and Reide Seligmann—were falsely accused of raping a stripper named Crystal Mangum. This allegation came from Mangum herself and soon after gained national attention as many media outlets picked up on the story. It didn’t take long, however, for this story to fall apart.

Just three weeks after these men were accused of their crime, the rape kit came back not matching any of their DNA. Another blow to the prosecutor for this case was that Reide Seligmann was seen on ATM footage during the time he was supposed to be raping Ms. Mangum. Finally, the other dancer who was hired along with Ms. Mangum. She publicly denied on multiple media outlets, including 60 Minutes, of her involvement in Ms. Mangum’s statement. Following this evidence, people began to look over her statement and see that her story was not truthful.

Unfortunately, many students and faculty at Duke University didn’t care about due process. Waiting for all the evidence didn’t matter. The Duke lacrosse team ended up forfeiting games due to protests. Reide Seligmann told 60 Minutes that people were outside his house banging pots with signs reading things such as “castrate,” or “Sunday morning: time to confess.”

These three students weren’t the only victims in this case, though. Their coach, Mike Pressler, suffered an equal, if not worse, fate. On the same episode of 60 Minutes, he tells Ed Bradley that he saw his name next to words like “rape” and “sexual assault” on a daily basis. Pressler had to meet with then athletic director Joe Alleva for an ultimatum: resign immediately or risk being fired.

Pressler resigned to protect the school’s reputation and appease protesters.

It wouldn’t be until a year later on April 11th, 2007 that all charges were dropped and all the players were declared innocent. Despite the damage that Ms. Mangum caused, she walked away without any consequences.

This scandal is among many that illustrate the impact of a rape accusation. On November 19th, 2014, Rolling Stone published an article by Sabrina Erdely about the University of Virginia’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and their alleged involvement of rape of a freshman named Jackie. The 9,000 word article, now taken down by Rolling Stone, described the terrible acts that seven members of the fraternity committed upon Jackie. Just like Duke University, the public was outraged. This outrage caused the other fraternity houses to be suspended for the rest of the semester by the president of the college and even led to the vandalism of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house.

Rolling Stone soon retracted the article, however. Their statement reads: “In the face of new information, there now appears to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced” (Rolling Stone). The magazine also acknowledged that its reporter never talked to Jackie’s alleged accusers and apologized for only obtaining information from Jackie.

The allegation against the fraternity quickly was proven untrue. The fraternity members were found innocent with no apologies from the community or Rolling Stone. Jackie walked away with no criminal charges.

Both of these accusations have forever changed the lives of the people involved. Sexual assault and rape are serious crimes and topics for universities to teach their students about. These crimes should result in the punishments our legal system hands down to accusers now, but what about fake accusations?

Unfortunately, the topic of rape is so touchy that many are unwilling to do anything about false claims. Just the mere suggestion that a person has done something is enough to convict them in the court of public opinion. Web sites feature arrest mug shots and identify charges; the wrongfully accused cannot protect their reputations. This can have life changing effects, public ridicule, and emotional harm. Can we consider this justice?

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