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Nowhere to Turn

As the Duke rape investigation continues to unfold, ESSENCE magazine finds a young woman and her family facing death threats and an uncertain future

According to family members the North Carolina Central University student at the center of the lacrosse team rape controversy is running scared. Several relatives spoke to ESSENCE and are saying that the young mother of two is not in her right state of mind at the moment. She needs some help. That girl needs some professional help, her aunt told ESSENCE magazine this morning. Many in the close-knit family wonder why more isnít being done to protect her.

The 27-year-old African-American woman was hired as an exotic dancer for a Duke University lacrosse team party March 13, where she says she was gang-raped and sodomized by three White men in a bathroom.

Reade Seligmann, 20, and Collin Finnerty, 19, were indicted April 17 on charges of first-degree sexual offense, first-degree forcible rape and first-degree kidnapping. Defense attorneys for both men maintain their innocence. The alleged victimís former husband told ESSENCE he was pleased with the indictments, because he wants ìto see justice done. The alleged victim separated from her former husband, a heavy machine operator, after five years of marriage. The case has sparked national media attention and has highlighted racial and class tensions between the elite university and Durham’s Black working-class community.


After spending more than 20 hours in the parentís home, which is located in a working-class neighborhood across the street from one of the three churches the family attends regularly, this reporter learned that many fear for the young womanís mental and physical safety. Both the alleged victim and her parents have received a number of anonymous death threats over the telephone and on flyers that were strewn across their front yard in recent weeks.

“The flyers said ‘We Will Kill You,'” remembers the woman’s father, a retired mechanic who still works on cars in his front yard. He believes that the letters KKK were also on the handwritten flyers. ìI really didn’t even get a chance to see them because the police came by so fast and put them in bags.î

Family members said that the alleged victim has confessed to feeling so overwhelmed by the situation that she had mentioned dropping the case on at least two occasions, one as recent as last Wednesday, when she called her father in tears. He told this reporter, who was in the home at the time of the call, that his daughter sounded very frightened and said it was all just too much for her. The womanís mother, who has taken a temporary leave of absence from her job at a local paper plant, told ESSENCE at the time that she hoped her daughter wouldnít give up and would change her mind about dropping the caseówhich she did the following day. The charges have been filed by the district attorney so the alleged victim would not be able to drop the case but she could refuse to cooperate. A cousin very close to the situation said she knew that the young woman had considered giving up, but has since decided to fight for justice.

“I know she feels alone,” the ex-husband said. “She doesnít know who to trust. Thatís why sheís running.”

Amid the flurry of personal attacks on her character, the alleged victim seems to be moving farther away from her own family, her relatives have said. Racing back and forth to undisclosed locations with her two small children in tow, the young woman has not spoken to anyone from the press and will only call her parents. Sometimes, said the aunt, she doesnít even talk to her mother and father when she calls, but simply blurts out, “I’m okay, Mama,” before quickly hanging up. The alleged victim is also so afraid that someone will find her, the aunt said, that she doesnít tell anyone where she is staying, and she wonít provide any way for them to reach her by phone.

“Nobody has seen her,” said her aunt, who worries that her niece has not been sleeping. Last night relatives even went so far as to say she might be in need of psychological attention: They said she called and told her mother that she has started screaming at the sight of White men in the streets.

Although the parents say their daughter drives by the family home on occasion as she did early Thursday afternoon when this reporter was presentóshe does not stop.

“She looked me straight in the face,” her mother told ESSENCE. “But she saw you were here, so she kept on going.”

As family members continue to wait for the next phone call all they can do is hope for the best.

“We just have to keep praying,” said her mother.

Additional reporting by Tatsha Robertson.

Names have been omitted to protect the identity of the family and the alleged victim.