Author: Michelle Anderson

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Worst Guest Blogger Ever & Reflections on Zuma

I must be the worst “guest blogger” ever here at Concurring Opinions. I planned to be a robust commentator, but a little thing called a deanship happened (CUNY Law) and, pow, my life changed. My duties online assumed a much lower priority as my work life got way, way, in the way. The only good news is that Miriam Cherry and Melissa Waters took up the slack. (What’s up with M-named female guest bloggers?)

Anyway, I must quit while I’m behind. But I’ll leave you with a couple reflections on the Zuma rape case, however. For those of you who haven’t been following the trial, Jacob Zuma, 64, former deputy president to Thabo Mbeki in South Africa, and former front runner to succeed him, was charged with rape by a 31-year-old HIV-positive AIDS activist.

Once his government’s leading official on HIV issues, Zuma said that he believed his risk of contracting HIV was small because he took a shower after having sex with her. More than one in eight adults is HIV positive in South Africa.

Zuma’s defense at trial focused on the sexual and mental history of the accuser. Zuma himself took the stand and testified that the woman signaled to him her desire to have sex by wearing a skirt and crossing her legs in front of him. According to the N. Y. Times on Apr. 10, 2006:

Indeed, he said, he was actually obligated to have sex. His accuser was aroused, he said, and ‘in the Zulu culture, you cannot just leave a woman if she is ready.’ To deny her sex, he said, would be tantamount to rape.

On Monday, Zuma was acquitted. The destructive messages that Zuma himself has sent about women, HIV, Zulu culture, and sexuality are so wrong, particularly for South Africa, a country with nearly four times the reported rape rate of the United States. Zuma, a widely revered hero of the anti-apartheid struggle, is now a champion of sexism under the banner of culture.

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Drunk at Duke

By now we all know that an African-American women, hired to strip at a Duke men’s lacrosse party, has accused three white players of kidnapping, strangling, and raping her on May 14, 2006. The Durham district attorney recently secured two indictments in the case, and indicated that a third may be forthcoming. The case is troubling for many reasons. I’ll probably write about a couple of different aspects of the case over the next week, but today I’d like to focus on the issue of alcohol. I’m particularly interested in how intoxication—of the men and the woman on the night in question—will be interpreted.

The initial description of the Duke case included the allegation that the players had already been drinking at the party before the dancers arrived. They may not have been the only ones. On April 10, defense attorney Bill Thomas said that time-stamped photographs would prove that the woman was already drunk herself upon coming to the party. To explain her injuries, Thomas said, “This young lady was substantially impaired. She had fallen several times during the course of the evening.”

How will intoxication of the parties affect an assessment of blame? Studies on the issue are fascinating. In a 1982 study (Richardson & Campbell, The Effect of Alcohol on Attributions of Blame for Rape, 8 Per. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 468 (1982)), participants read a story about a college student raped at a party. Some students read a story in which the attacker was drunk and some read a story in which the victim was drunk. The male attacker was held less responsible for the rape when he was intoxicated than when he was sober. By contrast, the female victim was held more responsible when she was intoxicated than when she was sober.

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A Feminist Gets Married

I got hitched Saturday. Beforehand, I had been sheepish about telling my students I was getting married. It seemed inconsistent with my professional persona as an independent, fearless, freedom-fighting law professor. So I waited until the last possible minute to mention it. “OK, I have a quick announcement,” I began a recent Criminal Law class. “I do apologize, but I have to cancel next Thursday’s class because… um… well… my partner and I have decided to get married.” My students then began to clap. Gads, this was worse than I’d imagined it would be. The applause grew.

“No, no—please don’t clap. This is a truly freakish event that was never supposed to happen to someone like me.” Applause turned to laughter. Now I’d gotten myself in a fix.

Gavin had faced none of this angst. He had told his journalism students months ago, and he’d enjoyed their applause, while I skulked around my school as if I had a dirty little secret.

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