DURHAM, N.C. — In a written statement released late Wednesday afternoon, Duke University's president called language allegedly used by members of the university's lacrosse team, now at the center of a rape investigation that has gained national attention, "disgusting."
At a news conference Tuesday evening, reporters asked Richard Brodhead about a 911 call released in which the caller tells an operator that players shouted racial slurs at her and her friend.
"I have now had the opportunity to listen to the tape," Brodhead said in the statement. "It is disgusting. Racism and its hateful language have no place in this community. I am sorry the woman and her friend were subjected to such abuse.”
Brodhead also met Wednesday morning with a forum of a few dozen students who feel his suspension of the lacrosse team during a rape investigation is not enough, urging them to be patient while police look into the matter.
Brodhead suspended the highly ranked team from play until the school learns more about accusations that team members attacked an exotic dancer hired to perform at an off-campus party. The alleged victim told police she was pulled into a bathroom, beaten, choked and raped by three men at a March 13 party, where she and another dancer were hired to perform.
Students wanted to talk about what they could do when it comes to sexual assault awareness and prevention, and told Brodhead that they would like to see more education and classes to deal with the matter on campus.
"I think this is very much a wake-up call, if not to the surrounding community, just to the people on this campus, that this type of thing is not acceptable," said Duke student Wintta Woldemariam.
At an annual campus rally against sexual violence previously planned for Wednesday night, about 300 people wearing purple and white ribbons marched across Duke's campus. Protesters handed out flyers to marchers bearing the photos and names of the lacrosse team, and taped them onto garbage cans in front of the student union.
"Rape is not sex. Rape is violence," Geoff Lorenz, 22, a senior from California, told the crowd. "May our sea of purple and white demand a change on this campus."
So far, no charges have been filed against any team members, but Durham County District Attorney Nifong said he had no doubt that the victim was raped.
"My reading of the report of the emergency room nurse would indicate that some type of sexual assault did in fact take place," Nifong said.
If police make an arrest in the case, charges could be major according to legal professionals outside the investigation. Among the possible charges: first-degree forcible rape and first-degree forcible sexual offense -- both of which are felonies.
"It's just under murder as one of the most serious crimes in North Carolina," said Defense Attorney Dan Boyce.
Even with no prior criminal record, if convicted on just one charge, a person could face a 25- to 30-year prison sentence. Consequences for anyone at the house charged with aiding and abetting could also be severe.
As for the investigation, Nifong said it has been difficult to pursue because no one who was at the party is speaking about what happened. But during a news conference Tuesday evening, Brodhead said that some of the team members have cooperated with police.
Nifong said Wednesday that the three men who rented the house where the alleged rape happened -- Matthew Zash, Dan Flannery and David Evands -- did speak to police at great length after the party, but that since then most have gotten lawyers and are no longer talking.
Racial Tensions Mount On, Off Duke Campus
Last week, investigators took DNA samples from 46 of the 47 lacrosse members. The 47th player, the only black member of the team, did not have to provide DNA because the dancer said her attackers were white. Results from those samples are expected sometime next week.
The dancer, who is black, told police that the men who assaulted her also shouted racial slurs at her and another dancer. In a 911 call released Tuesday, a caller who had nothing to do with the case told a dispatcher that she and a black friend had similar epithets shouted at them outside the house on the same night as the alleged attack.
The case has roiled the Duke campus and raised racial tensions. It also has heightened antagonism between the affluent students at Duke, where tuition costs about $43,000 a year, and the city of Durham, which has a large population of poor people and is about evenly divided between white and black.
"The circumstances of the rape indicated a deep racial motivation for some of the things that were done," Nifong said. "It makes a crime that is, by its nature, one of the most offensive and invasive even more so."
A lawyer representing several lacrosse team members did not immediately return calls to The Associated Press Tuesday. But Bill Thomas, a lawyer representing at least one of the lacrosse players, told WRAL that the allegations against the players are "false and without merit," and that the team "gladly awaits the DNA test results."
Angry over the team members' silence and the university's handling of the case, Durham residents have demonstrated on and off campus in the past few days.