Mike Nifong should go to prison for his role in the Duke Lacrosse debacle, but not because he wrongfully prosecuted innocent men. He should go to jail because his willful mishandling of the case casts a pall of suspicion and shame over legitimate cases brought by real rape victims.
Already, nearly 60 percent of rapes go unreported, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, which cites the National Crime Victimization Survey in reporting this statistic. One in six American women will be raped in her lifetime. Think of all the women you know. Count to six. Who’s the unfortunate victim? You may never know because she’ll be afraid to tell you or anyone else thanks in no small part to Mike Nifong’s actions.
Rape victims who confront their rapists still face ostracism, skepticism and reputation assassination, even in our supposedly enlightened society. This is not a stereotype. This is daily reality for the thousands of women who are assaulted in this country every year (2005 estimates approached a quarter of a million reported cases).
No other crime carries such a stigma for the victim. No one would ever be stupid enough to suggest that a victim of child abuse or mugging “asked for it.” Yet many small-minded individuals in our society still think there are instances in which a woman may be at least partially to blame for her own rape. Do you wonder what those people would say if they knew that nearly half of all rape victims are children younger than 18?
Laws are finally in place to begin protecting rape victims from further victimization by the very legal system they turn to for help. Changes in law means victims’ rights advocates may have a better chance of changing the way people think and feel about this crime.
Yet by prosecuting a spurious case for his own political gain, Mike Nifong single-handedly set back the cause of rape victim’s rights by decades. Now, when someone hears of an alleged rape, they will automatically envision the “victim” in Nifong’s case, whose veracity and background were minutely dissected by the media and the public. They will think only of the men Nifong accused, who turned out to be innocent of the charges.
Mike Nifong should go to prison because his actions will make it even harder for honorable prosecutors across the country to help real rape victims by putting their attackers behind bars. He is guilty of obstructing justice in every rape case that will be prosecuted in this country for many years to come.