The lesson we're not learning from the Hofstra date rape that wasn't.
The Hofstra University gang rape that wasn't is the sped-up version of the Duke lacrosse rape. In the Duke scenario, a woman who'd been brought in to dance at a lacrosse party said she was the victim of a brutal 30-minute gang rape in the bathroom by three lacrosse players. Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong got caught up in prosecuting the charges and defending the false accuser to the point of professional insanity. It took more than a year for the attorney general of North Carolina to dismiss all the charges against the lacrosse players and exonerate them in April 2007.
In the Hofstra case, the false charges unraveled in less than 72 hours. A week ago, an 18-year-old student told police she'd been gang raped in a bathroom on campus by five men she'd met at a party the police had broken up. The details were tabloid lurid: The student said she'd been tricked into a public men's room after one of the men stole her cell phone and then roped it to a toilet stall. By Wednesday, she'd admitted the sex was consensual. Her nonassailants were released after two nights in jail. She was suspended from school.
The weird lesson for men who have group sex in bathrooms: Film it on your cell phone. A five-minute video of the sex, which one of the men gave the cops, apparently persuaded the 18-year-old to take back her original story. At another moment, such a video might have gotten the guys in trouble for making porn and for sexting. But this time, it seems to have saved them.
But the deeper lesson, about date rape and the law, is much harder to pin down. Inevitably, the reactions to this case have broken down along the usual lines: On one side, raucous commenters say women can't be trusted when they have sex they're not proud of, and this proves it. On the other, women like Ann on Feministing says rape is a huge problem, and false accusations are a tiny one, and don't let this confuse you. We're also replaying the debate about whether to publish the names of women who make false accusations, after the names of the men have been splashed everywhere. (I'm erring on the side of privacy; there's a cogent argument in the other direction.) The arguments sound familiar because the problem of how to investigate and punish charges of date rape doesn't lend itself to simplicities. This is still where feminism collides with due process, when outrage butts up against the need for hard proof that's almost never available.
When Katie Roiphe published her book The Morning After in 1994 and attacked feminists for pumping up the idea of date rape as an after-the-fact excuse for bad sex, feminists like Katha Pollitt went after her reporting and her thesis. (Both Roiphe and Pollitt have written for DoubleX.) Rebecca Traister writes of her own college memories of the fracas, "I was furious at Roiphe, for sending a message to young women that all sex was OK sex, and that they were probably complicit in any violent sexual experiences they might have had." Then we went through the not-guilty verdict for Kobe Bryant in a he said/she said classic and the bogus charges against the Duke lacrosse players.
Emily Bazelon is a Slate senior editor and writes about law, family, and kids. Her forthcoming book, Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Empathy and Character. Find her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook or Twitter.
Photograph of Kevin Tavares, Stalin Felipe, and Rondell Bedward by Frank Eltman/AP Photo.