Durham News: Opinion

Gaspo: The haunted house on Chapel Hill Road

There’s a haunted house at 2505 West Chapel Hill Road.

A Duke student believes she was sexually assaulted there last month. This haunted house was an Alpha Delta Phi party house.

I went to look at the property, amid this rape case and the decades-long epidemic of sexual assaults involving college students.

The numbers have been astonishing for so long that when a given university says it’s “improving” a policy on handling these cases, the move seems ridiculous in its tardiness.

When some fraternities claim they and their “brothers” are committed to respecting women, I want to throw up.

And that’s almost what I did when I walked around the green-painted house with a prominent chimney out front on a chilly, gray weekend afternoon.

Something like black tar paper prevented me from seeing inside any window. On the porch, a transparent plastic bag contained a light blue mask and a bunch of unused latex rubber gloves. Left behind by the forensic team?

The haunted house at 2505 is three turns and two minutes by car from an entrance to Duke’s vaunted and beautiful campus. A roundabout later, and you’re facing Duke Chapel.

Conversely, the frat party house down the road was disgusting outside. Not in front, where all was eerily quiet, but in the rear. Beer cans litter the unpaved drive like bread crumbs, leading eyes to the ugly bonanza at the bottom.

There, a story of alcoholic excess and resulting garbage. One small bin packed full of probably 30 beer cans. Two large trash receptacles spilling over. An old, nasty steel dumpster just parked there. It all smelled.

Plastic red cups dotted the sprawling yard. An empty vodka bottle lay on the ground under a tree.

The back deck and a set of small, shaky-looking spectator stands face the muddy, near-ruined field with a dirty football on it. In the “stands,” a half-full half-gallon of orange juice still sat, possibly separated from the vodka bottle.

The woman alleging the Jan. 8 assault reportedly said she had an “Aristocrat and lime,” then was offered what someone called hot chocolate. She drank some and then, according to police records, the next thing she remembered was waking up in a T-shirt she didn’t recognize, no underclothes, and her leggings ripped and on the floor by her bed.

Alarming, taunting messages showed up on her computer, too. Inside 2505, Durham police would later seize a condom, cups, mattress, “liquid samples” and “swab samples.”

Dangerous ritual

As we saw in the recent Rolling Stone cover story on an alleged rape at the University of Virginia (my alma mater), sometimes a woman’s story doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. That is rare. We’ll see about this case soon enough.

But there’s no question: in an age of easily accessible knockout drugs, these drunken blowouts are a dumb and dangerous ritual.

If a woman is sexually assaulted and doesn’t go to law enforcement, some hazy, secretive system of so-called justice for the accuser – and accused – can take place in poorly prepared, unprofessional campus proceedings.

Universities and “honor” systems should stay out of the criminal justice business, period. Let law enforcement authorities off campus lead the response to reported violent crime.

As I write these words, breaking news says that two former Vanderbilt University athletes were convicted in Nashville of raping a female student. The woman was seen with the men, unconscious and partly naked in a dorm hallway, before the assaults.

After the verdict, the victim burst into tears and was quoted saying: “I want to remind other victims of sexual violence you are not alone. You are not to blame.”

Here, Duke University quickly suspended its Alpha Delta Phi chapter. The one-time house of “fun” at 2505 West Chapel Hill Road now simply has a sickening, awful air of abandonment.

I wonder why women would even consider walking into these madhouses. In a swarm of fueled, frenzied men, it only takes a single hornet to decide to attack. And the nightmare begins.

You can reach Tom Gasparoli at tgaspo@gmail.com or 919-219-0042.