Rape Accusation Against Lacrosse Players Roils Duke

By Joe Holley and Christian Sweezey
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 30, 2006

DURHAM, N.C., March 29 -- Shortly after Duke University's highly ranked men's lacrosse team posted a 9-7 win over Loyola in San Diego on March 11, Coach Mike Pressler posted a comment for a Web site called InsideLacrosse.com. "Now we look ahead to the most difficult weeks in Duke lacrosse history," he said, looking forward to his team's upcoming games with North Carolina, Cornell and Georgetown.

Pressler, in his 16th year as lacrosse coach at Duke, was prescient. But not in a way he anticipated.

A once-promising season came to an abrupt end, at least temporarily, this week when Duke President Richard H. Brodhead announced the suspension of all of the team's games in response to charges by a black woman that she was sexually assaulted, sodomized and strangled by three unidentified lacrosse team members at a house party not far from the Duke campus on March 13. The incident has roiled the idyllic Durham campus, exacerbated the school's relationship with residents of the town and raised disturbing racial concerns.

Police ordered 46 of the 47 members of the lacrosse team to provide DNA samples last week. The tests will compare the DNA to samples taken from the accuser. Durham police spokeswoman Kammie Michael said she expects the tests to be completed by early next week. DNA was not taken from the lone black member of the team because the woman said her assailants were white, police said.

Students and faculty members and Durham residents have staged at least a half-dozen vigils and protests the past five days, including a "Take Back the Night" march last night. Many students have urged school officials to do more to pressure players into telling authorities what happened. Letters to the editor of the Chronicle, the school newspaper, have expressed concern and outrage.

The woman, reportedly a 27-year-old student at nearby North Carolina Central University, told Durham police that she and another black woman were hired as exotic dancers to entertain a group of five men. When the women arrived at the house, they encountered more than 40 men, all of them white, and were taunted with racist epithets, the woman told police.

According to court documents released Monday, the exotic dancer said that when she and the other woman began their routine, one of the men watching held up a broomstick and threatened to sexually assault them.

After the threat, both women became frightened and left but a man who followed them outside apologized and persuaded them to return. At that point, the woman reported, three men shoved her into a bathroom and began the assault, which she said lasted about 30 minutes.

Although no charges have been filed, Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong said he is convinced a rape occurred. He also said charges were possible against those who were at the party but did nothing to try to prevent the incident.

"We're talking about a situation where had somebody spoken up and said, 'Wait a minute, we can't do this,' this incident might not have taken place," he told the Raleigh News & Observer.

The team captains issued a statement Tuesday expressing regret for the decision to hire the strippers and serve alcohol at the party. But they denied the criminal allegations and said that "the team has cooperated with the police in their investigation. We have provided authorities with DNA samples. The understanding is that the results of the DNA testing will be available sometime next week. The DNA results will demonstrate that these allegations are completely false."

"The members of the team completely support each other and they know the thing with which they are charged could not possibly have happened," said one individual close to the team who asked not to be identified. "The players are shocked and stunned that this has gotten to such a point. The team was so looking forward to this season. They have had it suspended when they didn't commit a crime. Their only crime was bad judgment; of everything else, they are innocent."

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