News is moving quickly on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case today. Vague information is drifting in the media concerning information about the accuser which apparently has warranted Strauss-Kahn’s release. Let’s have a look at this hot fucking mess, shall we?
TRIGGER WARNING: sexual assault
The attack took place at the Sofitel Hotel in New York City in May, where a housekeeper alleged that she had entered Strauss-Kahn’s room to clean it when Strauss-Kahn emerged from the bathroom naked, chased her, attempted to rape her and forced her to perform oral sex on him. Forensic evidence has been found, but it’s unclear what that evidence reveals. The woman, an immigrant from Guinea, managed to flee and alerted the authorities, and Strauss-Kahn was arrested later that night on board a plane bound for France. Since then the case has blown up in the media, and now the defense states that they have information that would damage the woman’s case. It’s worth noting that from all the articles I’ve read so far, I can’t quite tell if we’re just talking about information that would damage her credibility, or information that would damage her account. They cite connections to criminals, including an incarcerated man who she spoke to on the day of the attack and discussed the benefits of pursuing charges, and large amounts of money traveling into and out of her account.
I’d also like to point out here that as an immigrant from Guinea, as a woman of color and as a working class woman, the language surrounding the victim has been fascinating and depressing. For example, almost every article I’ve seen has referred to her as “the housekeeper”, not “the victim” or “the accuser”. We know her by her financial and also her racial and non-American status, by her otherness to the towering figure of DSK.
Now I get to the real kicker, the moment when I stopped reading and started breathing shallowly and trying to control my anger. A quote from the NYT article:
“In recent weeks, Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers, Benjamin Brafman and William W. Taylor III, have made it clear that they would make the credibility of the woman a focus of their case. In a May 25 letter, they said they had uncovered information that would “gravely undermine the credibility” of the accuser.”
So now, I ask you: do we really think rape cases are ever about anything but the credibility of the woman, or of the victim? The moment a victim reports a sexual assault, they will inevitably face an intense examination and scrutiny of not just a victim’s account, but the entire fabric of a victim’s life. From the clothes you wear to the way you walk to your connections to anybody in your life, criminal or not, more often than not, the case against a rape victim hinges on uncovering that perhaps they have lied or even forgotten something once in their life, as if because a person lied once, they are therefore lying about this. And, of course, the same rules do not apply to the person accused of rape. We are challenging their credibility insofar as where they were at the time of the assault, or why they were attempting to board a plane after the assault. Innocent until proven guilty is, in this case, true for the accused, while the victim is guilty of being not 100% innocent in every single aspect of their life and therefore possibly guilty of being assaulted, or lying about being assaulted.
I’m starting to think that part of the problem is that the justice system requires a kind of black and white conclusion that is extremely difficult to find in situations of sexual assault. If your neighbors didn’t hear shouting, just how loudly did you say “no”? What was your body language really saying? If you don’t have any bruises, did you really fight back? If you were flirtatious at the bar, how do we know you weren’t just as happy to bring him into your house? This is the logic, and goddamn if even writing those questions out makes me feel nauseous. But until there’s security footage of every location where a person could be assaulted, until the culture we live in no longer says that a woman who wears a short skirt is asking to be fondled on the train, until we try to prevent violence by targeting attackers and not victims, I’m not sure there can be true justice for victims of sexual assault.
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