The retired truck driver’s hands are greasy as he stands in the front yard of his modest home near the campus of North Carolina Central University, a historically Black college in Durham, North Carolina. Several cars he’s been working on sit in a side yard, and two other African-American men, neighbors or friends, refuse to leave his side.

He is the father of the woman at the center of a firestorm in Durham. His 27-year-old daughter, an NCCU student who was paying her way through school by working as an exotic dancer, has alleged that three men raped and sodomized her at a Duke University lacrosse team party on March 13.

“I was stunned, and I was numb too,” her father says of the allegation. He says that his youngest daughter—who had served a year in the Navy, and is all of 145 pounds and five feet six inches tall—was injured not just physically but also spiritually. “When she came home that night she told me, ‘I need to lay down. I feel real bad.’ I asked her what was wrong and she said, ‘I’ll tell you later.’ ”

Later she described the unthinkable. According to a police report, she said that several of the lacrosse players had pulled her into a bathroom, kicked, hit and strangled her as they sexually assaulted her, then stole $400 from her purse. “Her face was swollen,” her father says. “She told me, ‘I can’t walk. One of my legs hurt real bad.’ ” There was also a scratch on her left arm.

At press time, two players, Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty, had been arrested on charges of first-degree forcible rape, first-degree sexual offense and kidnapping. The men were promptly released on $400,000 bail each. In a written statement, District Attorney Mike Nifong avowed, “It had been my hope to be able to charge all three of the assailants at the same time, but the evidence available to me at this moment does not permit that. Investigation into the identity of the third assailant will continue in the hope that he can also be identified with certainty.” Nifong had previously ordered DNA testing for 46 lacrosse players. The team’s sole Black player was not tested, as the woman said all three of her attackers were White. Attorneys for the players said preliminary DNA results proved their clients did not have sexual intercourse with the woman. Seligmann and Finnerty’s attorneys maintain that the young men are innocent.

The story has brought into excruciating focus questions about race, class and privilege. Duke University, a predominantly white institution, is the city’s largest employer. Its tuition, including room and board, is $41,239, far more than most Black residents earn in a year. The $400 allegedly stolen from the victim would have paid for a semester of books. According to news reports, about 15 of the lacrosse players were known for drinking or disruptive behavior. Previous charges had been brought against them for underage alcohol possession, public urination and disorderly conduct. But prosecutors had usually dropped these misdemeanor offenses, allowing the young men to escape criminal convictions. One even faced charges of assault in Washington, D.C., the same day he was ordered to give a DNA sample in connection with the rape case.

Then, two and half weeks after the alleged rape, a jolting E-mail sent by one of the players just hours after the incident was made public. The player, Ryan McFadyen, described his intent to hire strippers, then kill and skin them. Duke University’s president Richard Brodhead immediately suspended the player, canceled the team’s remaining season, and accepted the coach’s resignation. McFadyen’s family, contacted at their New Jersey home, refused to comment.

The woman’s father had been babysitting her children, a 5-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy, the night of the party. He describes his daughter, who is majoring in criminal justice and wants to be a lawyer, as ambitious and driven. He says she works full-time while going to school.

Duke University and NCCU students have held separate and joint protests and vigils in support of the alleged victim. Others have questioned why she was working as an exotic dancer and had consented to perform at the party. But Renee Clark, the NCCU student government president, says she’s sure the woman was just doing what she thought she needed to do to pay for her education. “The young lady is going through all this scrutiny because of the job she held,” she says.

The woman’s father admits he had no idea his daughter was working as an exotic dancer or had been hired to perform with another dancer at a party in Duke-owned off-campus housing. “I thought she was working at a bar,” he says. “I would have been all over her if I had known she was doing that.” But he feels the blame lies squarely on the men he believes hurt his daughter. “I didn’t think anyone would do another person like that,” he says.

Come back for regular updates on this case.

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