On Monday, the Duke lacrosse team won its second straight national championship, defeating Notre Dame 11 to 9 in the NCAA Division I finals. The win is Duke's third in five years, and the university's lacrosse program is widely regarded as one of the best in the country. But eight years ago, the infamous Duke lacrosse team rape scandal saw the team gain notoriety not for their accomplishments on the field, but off it. Back in 2006, the scandal rocked the community of Durham, North Carolina, and set off a nationwide debate about race, privilege, and the presumption of innocence.
In one of the most famous rape cases to ever make national headlines, Crystal Magnum, an African-American exotic dancer, accused Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and David Evans of gang-raping and beating her during a party.
What Happened Then
On March 13, 2006, members of Duke's lacrosse team held a party, hiring two strippers from Allure Escort Services. They requested that the women have specific traits, notably asking for white or Hispanic women. However, the two strippers who arrived at the party were both black, which allegedly led to a slew of racially charged remarks and actions, with one player reportedly shaking a broomstick at the women, and another thanking a dancer's "grandpa for my fine cotton shirt."
Later that night, Ryan McFaden, then a 19-year-old sophomore at Duke who had attended the party, sent a now infamous email that seemed to serve as a smoking gun in the rape case. In the email, McFaden spoke of killing strippers and "proceeding to cut their skin off while cumming in [his] Duke issue spandex."
A few days later, team members were informed that one of the dancers, Crystal Magnum, was leveling serious sexual assault charges against her unknown attackers, including rape, sexual offense, and kidnapping. If convicted, players could receive up to 30 years in prison.
Spearheaded by Distract Attorney Mike Nifong, the case and subsequent trial painted the Duke lacrosse team as a privileged group of young white men, who had never faced hardship, and felt entitled not only to their already luxurious lifestyles, but also to the bodies of women. Nifong called team members "a bunch of hooligans," relying on evidence of racial slurs made the night of March 13 to suggest that Magnum's rape was the result of a hate-crime.
The entire country was quickly convinced of their guilt — McFaden's email, coupled with team members' racist remarks towards both women compounded an already suspicious situation — a large group of white men who hired black female strippers to perform for them at an elite, southern university. It seemed, in many ways, a textbook example of the violent manifestation of white privilege.
Only, it wasn't. 13 months after the incident happened, all charges were dropped, and Nifong was charged by the North Carolina Bar Association for "making misleading and inflammatory comments to the media," as well as withholding evidence and perjury. No DNA material that matched any of the three men were found on Magnum's clothes or her body, and in December of 2006, Magnum told lawyers that she was no longer sure of whether she had been raped.
Roy A. Cooper, North Carolina's attorney general, took over the case after Nifong was removed, and after reviewing sealed court files, including records of Magnum's mental health, dismissed charges of rape, kidnapping, and sexual offense. The three men have since settled with Duke for what is rumored to be $20 million each, and Vanity Fair estimates that the entire case, including the legal fees, settlements for the falsely accused players, and other public-relations related issues, cost the university $100 million.
Where The Accused Are Now
While the case has long since been put to rest, and Crystal Magnum has been imprisoned for second-degree murder after fatally stabbing her boyfriend in 2013, the aftermath of Magnum's claims and the subsequent trial seems to remain in the subconscious of many universities who all too frequently face student accusations of sexual assault. The Duke lacrosse trial certainly emphasized the importance of the presumption of innocence, and the injustices suffered by Seligmann, Finnerty, and Evans is unquestionable. But perhaps the worst and most far-reaching consequence of Magnum's fallacious accusations is the shadow of doubt she has cast on the real survivors of rape and sexual assault.
As for Seligmann, Finnerty, and Evans, the three men managed to move on past their scandal-ridden Duke days. Before news of the trial broke, Evans, the only senior accused, had landed a job with J.P. Morgan Chase. During the trial, the offer was rescinded, only to be reinstated after his name was cleared. Evans declined the offer, and instead accepted a position as an investment banking analyst program at Morgan Stanley. Today, Evans works at Apax Partners, a private equity and venture capital firm, as a Senior Associate in the Consumer team.
Seligmann, a sophomore at the time of the accusations, transferred to Brown following the trial, and then went to law school at Emory University. Today, he works as a law clerk at the U.S. District Court in New Jersey. Finnerty also left Duke as a sophomore, and finished his degree at Loyola College in Maryland. Today, he works as an analyst at Deutsche Bank. Both Seligmann and Finnerty continued playing lacrosse at their new schools, each serving as co-captains of their respective teams their senior year.
Correction: An earlier version of this article used a photo of a Duke lacrosse player in no way connected to the incident. We apologize for the error.