At off-campus bars, some Duke students describe a culture of sexual misconduct

At off-campus bars, some Duke students describe a culture of sexual misconduct

Nina Wilder, a student at Duke University, went to a bar in Durham on a Saturday night in hopes of having fun. But by the time she found herself with a stranger on the dance floor, away from her friends, she was scared. Wilder said she kissed the man that night in January 2017 but

Nina Wilder, a student at Duke University, went to a bar in Durham on a Saturday night in hopes of having fun. But by the time she found herself with a stranger on the dance floor, away from her friends, she was scared.

Wilder said she kissed the man that night in January 2017 but was shocked when he reached up her dress, under her tights and penetrated her with his fingers. She immediately pulled herself away and lost him in the crowd.

Although Wilder said the incident “really freaked me out,” she did not notify the police. She didn’t report it to anyone, she said, “because it’s so normalized that you’re going to have an experience like that.”

“Your immediate reaction isn’t, ‘Hey, I was just sexually assaulted,’” said Wilder, who is now a sophomore. “It’s, ‘Ugh, some guy just felt me up. He was probably drunk, I was probably drunk.’ Our immediate reaction is to minimize.”

Two in five undergraduate women at Duke said they were sexually assaulted in college, according to a survey of more than 2,000 students during the 2015-16 academic year.

RTI, a research firm commissioned by Duke to conduct the study, did a similar campus climate survey of nine U.S. universities during the 2014-15 academic year. Duke had a higher prevalence of sexual assault than any of those schools, where an average of 21 percent of students said they were sexually assaulted.

The Duke survey will be done again this spring.

At a university known for its “work hard, play hard” culture, some say harassment and assault have become a part of life for Duke students — especially at off-campus bars. During the 2015-16 academic year, more sexual assaults happened at bars, pubs and restaurants in Durham than anywhere on campus, according to the survey.

Shooters II Saloon and Devine’s Restaurant & Sports Bar are popular among Duke students, largely because the legal age to enter is 18.

They also offer some of the most inclusive environments, Wilder said, because “no matter what your Greek affiliation is, whether you’re in a selective living group, whether you’re in a certain student organization, everyone ends up at Shooters.”

Student-led efforts

Most of the initiatives addressing sexual assault at off-campus venues are led by students. That’s a “double-edged sword,” said Brian Buhr, a junior involved with Duke Students Against Gender Violence and the Interfraternity Council Sexual Assault Prevention Team.

“On one side, it’s fantastic that these are student-driven and not top-down,” Buhr said. “These are issues affecting students, and while the administration should support (them), having student impetus is very valuable.”

But Buhr said there’s a downside, too. Many students leave Duke after four years – not much time to tackle big issues like how to prevent sexual assault.

Duke’s vice president of student affairs, Larry Moneta, echoed Buhr when he said he doesn’t “believe there is an administrative cure.” The university doesn’t have much influence over what happens off campus.

“It’s a partnership between those of us in administrative roles and student leaders and student influencers,” Moneta said.

Last year, now-graduated Dana Raphael started Raising the Bar, an initiative to train staff of off-campus bars in sexual assault intervention and prevention. The idea was simple: Duke would provide the training and, ideally, there would be a decrease in off-campus sexual assaults.

A big goal of the initiative was working with Shooters, but that never happened.

Moneta reached out to Kim Cates, who owns Shooters, about the program. She said she didn’t put her staff through training because it was the summer and she only had part-timers.

Although Cates said she reached out to Moneta during the school year to follow up, she got no response. Then they didn’t connect further.

Part of what makes addressing sexual assault at local bars so difficult is tackling the culture, Buhr said. “It’s kind of disgusting how aggressive and overt some of these perpetrators are in these spaces.”

More than 80 percent of Duke undergraduate survey respondents who were sexually assaulted during the 2015-16 academic year said they did not report the incident to campus or city police. Most said they didn’t think the incident was serious enough or they did not want any action taken.

An unwillingness to report sexual assault goes back to campus culture, said senior Melissa Beretta, who was a risk manager for her sorority last year. In that role, Beretta focused on preventing and responding to potential issues related to drinking and sexual assault.

“Duke has that culture of people randomly hooking up on the dance floor super drunk, and people laugh about it afterwards,” Beretta said. “But at the same time, people’s eyes are glazed over or they’re stumbling. And this is both men and women. That makes me so uncomfortable, but it’s also something I think we’ve all gotten used to as the norm.”

Sometimes, Beretta said, students find themselves in dangerous situations after they leave a bar.

“There’s only a cab ride separating you from being in that person’s dorm or in their apartment,” she said. “[You can go] from a ‘harmless makeout’ at Shooters to a really dangerous situation for both parties.”

Reporting sexual assault

There are multiple resources for reporting sexual assault on Duke’s campus. Students can talk to staff at the Women’s Center and Counseling and Psychological Services. They can also report sexual assault to the Duke police, the Office of Student Conduct or the Office for Institutional Equity.

But the formal process can be difficult to navigate, and some students might be hesitant to report incidents that involved alcohol or drugs.

A Superior Court judge ruled in February in favor of a Duke soccer player who said the university mishandled the disciplinary process he faced after being accused of sexual misconduct.

Two panels in the Office of Student Conduct had found that Ciaran McKenna did not obtain consent before before having sex with a female student he met at a bar in 2015. The judge’s ruling did not overturn the panels’ findings, but it barred Duke from imposing a six-semester suspension.

Lewis McLeod, a walk-on soccer player, also filed a lawsuit against the university in 2014 when campus officials tried to expel him.  

An undergraduate conduct board had found McLeod responsible for sexual misconduct after a woman accused him of rape. The pair reportedly met at a bar and then went to McLeod’s fraternity house.

Duke settled the lawsuit Feb. 26, but it is still unclear whether McLeod will receive a diploma.

Moneta, who has been co-chairman of the sexual misconduct task force at Duke for 10 years, said he doesn’t believe there’s much more the university can do in terms of policies for reporting and handling accusations of sexual assault.

“Campus judicial processes weren’t designed in the first place to rival court rooms,” Moneta said.

“I don’t know that I would ever say I could make you feel satisfied by the [reporting] process,” he said. “You have to recount what you said, what you did, in front of strangers. And then you have to be confronted by your assaulter. There is nothing about the formal reporting process that isn’t sheer misery.”

Campus culture

Cates, the owner of Shooters, said 38 cameras are stationed throughout the venue. The footage can be accessed when an alleged sexual assault is brought to her attention, but it only kept for five to seven days.

Cates said she also hires four off-duty police officers from the Durham Police Department to be inside and outside every night the bar is open.

“I also do it so that people know that I’m going by the rules like I’m supposed to be. If something were to happen, they’re there to handle the situation if something gets out of hand,” Cates said. “I also have six to seven men working inside, top floor and bottom floor, and I’m also all over the place at any time. I would assume that everyone that comes in there knows who I am.”

But underage students who are drinking, often using fake IDs to order drinks, might avoid approaching a police officer for help.

“A lot of students feel afraid because they’re drunk, they’re underage, they don’t want to get in trouble,” Wilder said. “You don’t want to be blamed, and you don’t want to minimize it, either. Like, ‘Oh, he just touched you? We can’t do much about that.’”

Beretta suggested the bouncers at off-campus bars stop students as they’re leaving and chat.

“Reminding people that a person is too intoxicated to go continue with any sort of sexual experience, I think that could go a long way,” Beretta said. “These venues are obviously taking a risk where underage people are heavily intoxicated, and they need to take on a little bit more responsibility.”

The issues surrounding sexual assault go beyond the university, Moneta said.

“It’s a much harder issue because it’s not as if students arrive here clean slate,” he said. “They’ve been socialized in high school, this has been ongoing behavior you can track back to middle school.”

He also said sexual assault is not an issue unique to Duke.

“Look at any major campus with an off-campus bar scene and you’ll find the same thing,” Moneta said. “I talk to my counterparts around the country all the time, and there’s nobody at Stanford, Northwestern … nobody has figured this out.”

If you are a Duke student who has experienced sexual assault and would like to share your experience with CollegeTown NC, please contact Julia Donheiser at




Julia Donheiser

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