Rape Case Is Seen as Symbol at Black College in N.C.
Sunday, May 7, 2006
DURHAM, N.C. Four banners hang on the front lawn of North Carolina Central University. Hitched between poles a month ago, they have endured rain and wind. In sunlight they are shaded by weeping oaks and at night they are heavy with dew, always there, scrawled with dozens of handwritten inscriptions.
We are with you. We are outraged with you. We will fight back for you.
Audre Lourd said, Your silence will not protect you. We cannot lose our voice.
Rest assured, we will not rest until justice is done, especially the strong brothers.
Your Eagle family loves you and is behind you, no matter what.
No matter what.
In the days and weeks that have passed since a 27-year-old NCCU student told police she was raped by three Duke University lacrosse players, the banners have maintained a stubborn presence against the emerging details of the accuser's complicated life. She is a mother of two who moonlighted for an escort service. Once, while intoxicated, she stole a car from a patron at an adult entertainment club. She went to police when she was 17 and reported that she had been raped by three men when she was 14.
Her identity shielded in news accounts, her life was short-handed down to one word: stripper.
To her fellow students at a historically black college where 61 percent of students receive need-based financial aid and many work jobs on the side, she was a single mother who walked their hallways. Cash is what she needed, and who couldn't relate?
Kristiana Bennett, a junior with a child and a part-time job, knows what that means. Between classes, she uses the phone to check on her son at day care. They live in a Section 8 apartment off campus. Once, in a financially desperate moment, Bennett considered dancing at an adult club -- $400 in a night compared with the $11 an hour she earned caring for an elderly woman. Ultimately, Bennett decided she couldn't do it. But that feeling of desperation is what made her relate to the accuser, whom she had met only in passing earlier this year.
"We are the same age," Bennett said. "Both of us are single mothers. And both of us are poor."
Three miles from the Gothic splendor of Duke, NCCU is plunked down on a stretch of Fayetteville Street near a plaza with hot wings, hair salons and bail bonds. The student union has four vending machines. Single mothers sometimes bring their kids to class, setting them up with juice and crayons in the back of Mass Comm.