What are the similarities and differences between the Duke Lacrosse rape case and Sarah Butters rape case? As you may already know, the Duke Lacrosse case involved false rape allegations, while the...

What are the similarities and differences between the Duke Lacrosse rape case and Sarah Butters rape case? As you may already know, the Duke Lacrosse case involved false rape allegations, while the Butters case revealed a clear sexual assault case (with video evidence) followed by a lax punishment (expulsion after graduation). In your discussion, please relate both cases to how depictions of sexuality in our society (via media outlets-ads, TV, Movies, etc.) influences rape culture.  

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the strongest similarities between both cases is the blurring of distinct social lines of appropriate sexual conduct as a result of alcoholic consumption.  In both cases, the most intimate of moments are misunderstood by both young men and women.This blurring of the lines was aided by alcoholic consumption.  In the Duke lacrosse case, both the young men and the woman in question were under the influence of alcohol.  This contributed to inhibiting the sense of control in both that might have actively and assertively prevented sexually blurred lines from progressing.  In the Sarah Butters case, Spring Break 2013 was the setting for the blurring of lines.  The video that was posted of the event features Butters saying, "This isn't okay, this isn't a good idea." Both she and the men who participated and filmed the sexual assault were under the influence of alcohol.  In both cases, the blurring of lines in sexual conduct is evident.  This sense of confusion and miscommunication between men and women was fueled by alcoholic consumption.

Another similarity between both cases is the presence of social marginalization. On one hand, the issue of gender is evident in that both cases feature men who use sex to target women.  Even though the men in the Duke Lacrosse case were exonerated, the use of male power over women is evident in how the boys paid for a women to strip for their pleasure and in the demand for the women to use "sexual toys" to enhance the voyeuristic sense of power.  In the Butters case, the woman clearly demands for the men to stop, as she acknowledges that "this isn't a good idea."  Her voice is not acknowledged.  In addition to this, both cases feature more men in numbers using social persuasion to convince women to do something that is in in the men's interests.  Once again, it is fully conceded that the men in the Duke Lacrosse case were cleared.  However, one can see gender bias in the mere situation that brought about such a bad event.  Another aspect which is more subterranean is the role of economic class.  In the Duke Lacrosse case, Crystal Gail Mangum experienced economic challenge.  She was not born into wealth, and at the time of the incident, "She had at some point held jobs working at a nursing facility and at a $10.50-an-hour assembly-line job making catalytic reducers."  She took the job as a stripper for financial reasons, as she was a student at North Carolina Central University.  The men she accused were relatively well- off and experienced a different economic reality.  They were wealthy students who lived in off campus housing at one of the nation's most prestigious universities.  They participated in an activity, lacrosse, that is associated with those who have access to economic opportunity.  The dichotomy between the economic backgrounds of the accuser and the targets of her accusation in the Duke Lacrosse Case reveals different levels of social marginalization, representing "the exemplars of the upper end of the class hierarchy, the politically dominant race and ethnicity, the dominant gender, the dominant sexuality, and the dominant social group on campus."  In the Sarah Butters case, a similar dynamic is evident.  Butters was on financial aid to James Madison University, and had it revoked as a result of her grades dropping due to the pressure of the scandal associated with accusations.  At the same time, the men found guilty of sexual misconduct were all "fraternity members," reflective of a culture of economic opportunity and empowerment.  The class issue is more pointedly revealed in how Butters had to leave the university, while one of the accusers is returning next year for his Senior year.  In both cases, a similarity is the reality of social marginalization filtering into the most blurred of instances.

I think that a significant difference would be the woman of each case.  Butters has demonstrated to be a capable and effective witness in describing what happened to her.  Yet, the punishment meted out to the boys is not reflective of her strength and commitment to see justice done.  Mangum was not a very credible witness, changing her story multiple times and demonstrating herself as not very stable on both legal and emotional levels.  Another difference in each case lies in the public outrage in each case.  The Duke Lacrosse Case made headlines in national and local media, sports and mainstream news outlets, and became something talked about. Some of this discussion was legitimate in terms of focusing on how sexual misconduct exists on the nation's campuses of colleges and universities, while much of it was focused on the salacious details of the accusers's initial claims, her inconsistencies, and how "the rape card is played."  In the Sarah Butters case, the national media exposure is not as present.  The reality is that Butters's case is reflective of a broader pattern of sexual misconduct, a pattern that the Vice- President himself has identified as wrong:  "Colleges and universities can no longer turn a blind eye or pretend rape or sexual assault doesn't occur on campuses."  Yet, there is not a real and consistent focus about the Butters case, the miscarriage of justice, and the fact that her accusations were accurate and valid.  Instead, it is depicted as reflective of a larger pattern.  The advantage in such a depiction is that it enables individuals to obscure responsibility into a cultural trend or something larger than the individual.  This was not evident in the Duke Lacrosse Case, for when Mangum was proven to be fraudulent in her claims, people from all corners in both traditional and web- based formats spoke out, primarily against her, almost indicting the reality that rape victims and survivors of sexual assault must endure on two levels:  The first being the act itself and the second being in the media and the legal realm.

In an interview, Butters reflects the reality that underscores both cases.  She talks about the ordeal and her initial reaction to it:  "It was kind of hard for me to deal with... I just tried to diminish the situation - I didn't want to bring it up, didn't want to talk about it."  This is the fundamental truth that exists behind the sexual misconduct in both cases.  The most private and intimate of moments, when misused as forms of power, become public and there is an initial apprehension to addressing such a condition.  We lack the proper understanding to do so because it is so complex.  It is in this light where the images of rape culture fill our unwillingness or inability to appropriate complexity and intricacy.  Media outlets are able to plug in the gaps that should be occupied by nuanced discussions as to how to teach men and women to avoid the blurring of lines that happens after hours within intimate settings.  The culture of sexual objectification that depicts women as strippers or "things" that are to satisfy men overtakes one that seeks to instruct both genders that alcohol and sexual game playing never result in anything productive.  It is a culture that finds it easier to demand that women "take it off" or "use this [as a sexual toy]," or film someone being objectified on a cell phone camera than it is to talk about how the degradation of voice should not be a part of an individual's sexual exploration. It is a culture that allows men to circulate footage of a woman being violated and one that enables men to yell at women that  "We asked for whites, not niggers." It is one that empowers men in this regard and silences the voices of women.   In this light, it becomes clear that rape culture and all of the sad baggage that goes along with it is another aspect of similarity in both cases.

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