April 17, 2006

There is much more to the alleged rape of a female ‘dancer’ by Duke Lacrosse players than ‘male sports culture’

Article by MIM President Robert Peters**

First published on April 17, 2006

The recent news about the Duke University lacrosse players who allegedly raped a female African American college student they had hired to “dance” for them at a party caught my attention for two reasons. First, I am interested in and concerned about what is happening in the world of sports; and second, I wondered what kind of “dance” the woman had been asked to do, since the media often equates “dancing” or “exotic dancing” with barroom-style stripping.

In trying to explain why the alleged incident occurred, more than one news article pointed a long finger at the “male sports culture.” Having experienced the “male sports culture” first hand in high school and at an all-male college (Dartmouth, 1967-1971), I can somewhat understand why. But I also think it is a mistake to blame “male sports culture” as such for sexual assaults involving athletes, because to a significant extent “male sports culture” simply reflects (perhaps to an exaggerated extent at times) “popular culture.”

The influence of “popular culture”

For example, “popular culture” (TV, films, music videos, video/computer games, etc.) has helped make stripping more visible and even “acceptable” in some circles. How else do we explain the spectacle of a female college student agreeing to strip for a group of male college athletes so that they can get sexually aroused and she can pay her bills?

Hollywood films and TV dramas and sitcoms include (feature) storylines about stripping. The news media report that celebrities (both male and female) were spotted in strip joints. MTV and other “music channels” feature young women who mimic strippers; and according to an Associated Press article (“Duke case raises stereotypes,” Newsday, 4/14/06), images of “barely dressed” black women “mimicking strippers in music videos” and “simulating sex acts in hip hop videos” contribute to the stereotype that black women are “hypersexual and readily available.” Thanks to Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson’s 2004 Super Bowl Halftime Show performance, millions of parents got an eyeful of what their children learn from MTV.

Last year, Paris Hilton mimicked a stripper in her aimed-at-youth ad for Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s Burgers, substituting a car for a stripper pole. Women’s magazines read by many teens feature articles that include instructions in how to strip. Newspapers and TV news programs do stories about stripper-exercise classes, and even burlesque is making a comeback.

For more on the “stripper culture,” see Richard Fausset, “Naked Hip-Hop Ambition,” L.A. Times, 4/28/06; Richard Johnson, “Kate, Lindsay bump-&-grind,” NY Post, 1/12/06; and Alison Pollet & Page Hurwitz, “Strip Till You Drop,” The Nation 1/12/04.

                                                        “Girls Gone Wild” and more

Earlier this month, Morality in Media received a letter and newspaper article from a woman in Michigan. The article (“One ‘Wild’ Night: ‘Girls Gone Wild’ makes a tour stop in Battle Creek,” Battle Creek Enquirer, 3/6/06) described an event that was part of the “Girls Gone Wild” national “rock star” bus tour. As described by the paper, “Girls Gone Wild” is a California-based business with a “video series and Web site that feature young amateur women stripping and engaging in sex acts, often in public places.” The paper also noted that “Girls Gone Wild” has “faced criticism – and lawsuits – claiming it takes advantage of drunk young women for profit” and that the “videos and brand have been featured” on TV programs like Access Hollywood, Mad TV, VH1, Entertainment Tonight, and The Howard Stern Show. Here is how the paper described part of the live event that took place in a Battle Creek bar:

“A young woman wearing a tiny top and underwear stands in a plastic kiddy pool
on stage in front of several hundred men. Her knees shiver and she tilts her head
down so her blond hair covers her eyes. Two men stand beside her with ice-cold
pitchers of water in their hands. She winces as the first splash hits her face and
chest…Men scream louder and more icy water is poured over her. She looks up,
eyes slightly dazed from alcohol and mascara running down her face. The crowd
cheers. She does a seductive dance and smiles… Before the thong contest a
member of the ‘Girls Gone Wild’ crew took to the stage to get people even
rowdier and directed in explicit terms to cheer for the breasts and nudity they were
about to see.  ‘Remember, drink up everybody, because the more you drink, the
more chaotic it’s gonna get,’ he said. ‘The more wild the girls gonna get.’”

In recent weeks, MIM has also received complaints about “Girls Gone Wild” ads on cable and satellite TV. Back in 2004, I flew to Oregon for a conference on pornography. I arrived at the hotel after midnight and began watching a nationally televised high school football game on cable TV. At halftime, the first advertisement was for “Girls Gone Wild” videos.

And it isn’t just “Girls Gone Wild” pornographic videos and indecent and lewd live events that celebrate drunken young women taking off their clothes in front of an audience of drunken young men. MTV also celebrates the debauchery that occurs among college and high school students during “spring break,” as did the film “The Real Cancun” in 2003.

Strippers at college expense

Even elite colleges have jumped on the stripper bandwagon. As reported in Sharon Secor’s February 2006 “Especially for Parents” column (published at www.moralityinmedia.orgCurrent Issues page):

“The Sex Workers’ Art Show Tour is hitting the road again and there’s a good
chance that the show will be hosted by a college in your area. Indeed, some of the
most prestigious colleges in the nations are welcoming – again – this troupe. It
seems, these days, as though the educational system, to the great detriment of
our society, is almost just as intent on normalizing the sex industries, as the
pornographers are themselves. ‘The show’…‘includes people from all areas of the
sex industry: strippers, prostitutes, dommes, film stars, phone sex operators…etc.
It smashes traditional stereotypes and moves beyond “positive” and “negative”’…
The goal is ‘to dispel the myth that they [the sex workers] are anything short of
artists, innovators and geniuses.’”

Stripping not “harmless fun

But contrary to the “harmless fun” that stripping appears to be, when seen through the distorted “lens” of popular culture, stripping in real life is not so pleasant. In California v. LaRue (1973), the Supreme Court upheld a California alcoholic beverage control law that banned lewd entertainment in bars, observing in part: “Indecent exposure to young girls, attempted rape, rape itself, and assaults on police officers took place on or immediately adjacent to such premises.” In upholding a New York alcohol beverage control law that banned nudity in bars, the Court in NYS Liquor Authority v. Bellanca (1981) observed: “Common sense indicates that any form of nudity coupled with alcohol in a public place begets undesirable behavior.”

In a statement (published at www.obscenitycrimes.orgPorn Problems and Solutions page) to protest the 1999 “Erotica USA” trade show in New York City, Dr. Mary Anne Layden, Director of Education, Center for Cognitive Therapy, at the Univ. of Pennsylvania, wrote in part:

“In one study 100% of the strippers reported some kind of physical or verbal
abuse on their jobs. Verbal abuse by customers is extremely common with 91%
reporting incidents… besides the verbal abuse, all endured some type of physical
abuse on the job. Despite the fact that it is illegal to touch a stripper, strippers
reported that customers grabbed them by the arm (88%), grabbed their breast
(73%), or their buttock (91%). Customers at strip clubs often assault the women.
Customers pulled their hair (27%), pinched them (58%), slapped them (24%), or
bit them (36%). The women are often attacked in front of bodyguards and other
audience members. If men would do this to women in public, what would they do to
women in private? Strippers are often raped….”

In her testimony (published at www.obscenitycrimes.orgPorn Victims and Addicts page), former stripper Kimberly Drake describes her experiences, in part, as follows:

So I began what I thought would be a lifelong career as a stripper. But stripping
was not the glamorous job that the porn industry made it out to be. I began to
realize that this was just a place of prostitution and addiction. It was dark and dirty.
I pretended that the men who came to see me genuinely liked me. I pretended the
girls I worked with were sincere in their friendships. I smoked pot to numb the pain
of the place I called “work.” I had to get stoned to get naked on stage because I
felt so degraded and humiliated. I was loved for my body parts, not my character. I
was bit, hit, pinched, and grabbed every night that I worked. I witnessed
prostitution, drug use and sales, lewd activities too numerous and grotesque to
elaborate, even death and murder.

                                                               You reap what you sow

It is not my purpose to absolve “male athletic culture” or athletes of responsibility for sexual misconduct; but if the underlying problem is “male athletic culture” as such, then similar sexual misconduct should have been occurring all along, including in the 1960s when I played high school and college football. Perhaps I missed something, but I don’t think hiring strippers (or sexually assaulting strippers) or gang bangs (or gang rapes) or even “hooking up” (or “date rape”) were “the vogue” back then. Not that all athletes in the 1960s were “angels,” but for the most part we misbehaved in the same ways that non-athletes misbehaved (e.g., pre-marital sex).

I mention my high school days because in recent years there have been two incidents in the New York City metropolitan area involving high schools athletes and strippers. One incident involved a football team (“HS party stripper busted for coke,” NY Post, 1/6/02) and the other a baseball team (“HS players brag of strip club follies,” NY Post, 5/9/03).

I therefore think there is a larger problem here – namely, a pervasive popular culture that eroticizes, glamorizes, and celebrates sexual immorality of all kinds, including stripping. There is a wise old saying, “You reap what you sow,” and that truth applies today. When foolish young men on school athletic teams, or on spring break, or in Battle Creek, or on Wall Street pay to have women in public or private places engage in indecent and lewd behaviors for their sexual pleasure, we shouldn’t be surprised when the results are boorishness, promiscuity, marital infidelity, prostitution, indecent exposure, sexual harassment, and sexual assaults.

Imitating pornography

I would add that the problem is not limited to live performances, as a recent rape trial in Lewiston, Idaho illustrates. In Lewiston, the 19 year-old defendant was acquitted of raping a 17 year-old girl “at a party at his apartment, where people watched a pornographic movie and consumed alcohol” (“Jury clears Draper on rape charges,” Lewiston Morning Tribune, 1/21/06); but in a written statement given to the Tribune, one juror said, “Many of us felt that this girl had something horrible happen to her, but because of the way the law reads, we had to let him walk. It makes me sick to my stomach.” During the trial, the defendant testified that ‘the story about the defendant, the alleged rape victim, and another male having sex together to imitate the porn video was true” (“Defendant in rape trial takes stand,” Lewiston Morning Tribune, 1/19/06).

For a recent case involving college students, alcohol, pornography, and alleged sexual misbehavior, see “Three Face Charge of Indecency at UConn.,” Hartford Courant, 2/3/06.

Closing thought

Another facet of the Duke lacrosse story that generated a considerable amount of publicity was a “sick email” sent by one of the lacrosse team players which said, “Tomorrow, after tonight’s show, I have decided to have some strippers over…I plan on killing the b—-es as soon as they walk in and proceed to cut their skin off while [masturbating]…”

According to an article in the New York Post (“Duke jock’s sick e-mail ‘a movie rip-off,’” 4/10/16), the email appears to be a “takeoff” on the Hollywood film “American Psycho,” which featured a Wall Street trader who becomes a serial killer. I assume this lacrosse player wasn’t being serious, but it is another indication of how popular culture influences the thoughts and words of teens and young adults. And what influences thoughts and words can also influence behavior.

**Robert Peters is president of Morality in Media, a New York City-base nonprofit organization that works through law to curb obscenity and indecency in the marketplace and media. Mr. Peters was co-captain of Dartmouth College’s 1970 undefeated football team. Author: MIM   04/17/2006

Further Reading