RALEIGH, North Carolina – In the month since a rape scandal broke at Duke University, campus counselors have been swamped with calls from sexual assault victims whose own painful memories have been stirred up, the director of the university women's center said.
"I will tell you that our psychologist ... has not had a moment to breathe since these allegations broke," said Donna Lisker. "It's been very, very busy."
An increase in calls from victims of recent or long-ago assaults commonly occurs after a big case, a TV movie or something else focuses attention on the issue, said Scott Berkowitz, head of the national Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, which operates a crisis hot line.
At Duke, the sole staff psychologist at the Women's Center has been so inundated that several other staff members must help handle the calls and referrals, Lisker said.
Police and prosecutors often worry that a highly publicized case may drive victims underground, for fear their names, their pictures and details about their sex lives will turn up in the media.
"We have to reassure them that it's not going to happen, that it's generally only in these high-profile cases that that happens," said Mark Hurlbert, the district attorney who pursued charges against National Basketball Association star Kobe Bryant in Colorado after he was accused of raping a hotel employee in 2003.
Hurlbert said reports of rape, which had been rising steadily, went down in Eagle County, Colorado, in the months after Bryant was charged. Prosecutors ended up dropping the case because the accuser said she did not want to go forward with a trial.
In Durham, District Attorney Mike Nifong said he has seen no trend in rape reports in his area since the case broke.
Duke Lacrosse players Collin Finnerty, 19, and Reade Seligmann, 20, were indicted on rape and kidnapping charges last week. A 27-year-old stripper who had been hired to perform at a team party March 13 told police three men raped her in a bathroom of the off-campus house. Nifong has said he expects to charge a third person soon.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, 42 percent of U.S. sexual assault victims reported the attacks to police in 2001-04, up from 35 percent in 1997-2000 and 31 percent in the four-year period before that.