Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Who’s Really Being Set-up Here

7 Jul

Dominique Strauss-Kahn made some more headlines this week – and so did the woman who has accused him of rape.

Much has been said about him and about her already. Reporters have noted his aspirations to become the socialist candidate for the French Presidency and others have reported on the character of the housekeeper at the Sofitel who has accused DSK of assaulting her, which has changed over the course of the investigation. Many have also cast aspersions on the legitimacy of the case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK). The majority of these aspersions are based on attacking the credibility of the woman who has accused DSK of sexual assault. She is a 32-year-old woman from Guinea who was granted asylum in the United States and is raising her 15-year-old daughter, and has been working at the Sofitel Hotel in New York since 2008.

Noting that this is the perfect storm of injustice based on race, class, gender and citizenship, I’d like to bring our attention to a less-discussed point in this debate. Specifically, there’s one thread of this conversation that I’d like to draw our crunk attention to: the sexism inherent in our criminal “justice” system.

From the NYTimes:

“Most of their problems with the case, they said, had to do not with the woman’s account of the attack, but rather with inconsistencies in her life story — lies she told on her asylum application and tax returns; deposits that were made to a bank account in her name; and a conversation she had with a man in federal custody in Arizona.”

Not including the one discrepancy in the woman’s account (on what she did immediately following the attack – waiting in the hallway or going into another room), this is the crux of the unraveling of the case against DSK – the perceived character of the woman.

Some (even self proclaimed feminists) have claimed that DSK has been under uncommonly strict scrutiny because he’s a powerful man who’s politics are left-of-center.  Um, what? No.

Some feminists have eloquently brought our attention to the fact that her case against DSK is based on her being seen as a legitimate victim – perfect in all other aspects of her life, unimpeachable in her character.

This is a common occurrence in sexual assault cases and a well-documented fact. From a roundtable sponsored by The United States Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women, The White House Council on Women and Girls, and The White House Advisor on Violence Against Women:

 “One in six women and one in 33 men will be sexually assaulted during the course of their lifetime.However incidents of sexual violence remain the most underreported crimes in the United States, and survivors who disclose their victimization—whether to law enforcement or to family and friends—often encounter more adversity than support.”

So what’s the takeaway from this? What are we to understand about violence against women in the US?

It seems that in cases of violence against women, the burden of proof falls squarely on the shoulders of the woman who brings the case to court. And then we wonder why only 16% of rapes are reported. As noted in that same report, when survivors of sexual assault DO disclose what happened to them, they often face skepticism, blame, and further humiliation from professionals, families, and friends, amounting to what many survivors consider a “second victimization.”

Here’s why I think this:

First, as the DSK case demonstrates, in order for these cases to be taken seriously, the accusers must not have any credibility issues.

Next, people who are poor, immigrant, women, differently-abled, LGBTQ, etc. will never be able to conform to the standards of credibility – because their very identities mark them as “outsiders” or “deviants” – from the jump.

So, then, if decide to brave the inevitable challenges and try avail themselves of our criminal “justice” their “character” is attacked, cases are dismissed, an/or forgotten.

Listen up, fellow crunk feminists, it’s a legal-socio-political set-up!

Dramatics aside, this belies not just a problem in this case, but also in the way that we think about violence against women. Fundamentally, it is  problem in the way that we deploy a system of justice that is, at it’s core, sexist. For this reason, it is clearly not set up to deal with the problem of violence against women. In fact, seems to consistently diminish the ability of women to find justice in cases of sexual assault.

Let’s at least call it like we see it.

17 Responses to “Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Who’s Really Being Set-up Here”

  1. crunkfupanda July 7, 2011 at 3:08 PM #

    Agreed – our “justice” system is completely broken when it comes to dealing with crimes of violence against women. The initial reaction is almost always to blame the victim. If that fails, move on to character assassination.

    In Texas, 14 men repeatedly gang-raped an 11 year-old over several months ( Even in that case, “…some in the town of about 9,000 residents suggested the girl was culpable in part for what happened, claiming she wore makeup and looked older”. Seriously? She was asking for it? WTF!?!

    Because society accepts this kind of thinking about crimes of violence against women, there is always inherent “doubt” built into the case. Indeed, this kind of thinking is largely *the cause* of much violence against women. In the case I just mentioned, 14 individuals failed to see the horror of their crimes, and continued to perpetrate the violence again and again over several months. Surely one of the 14 would have balked if someone had said, “I’m bored, let’s go kill a little girl this afternoon”.

    Throw in a bit of character assassination and you can easily tip the scales from doubt to “reasonable doubt” – easily influencing shallow jurors and dissuading busy prosecutors that have “more solid” cases to work on. It is the only kind of crime where *the victim* is presumed to be guilty until proven innocent.

    • Helel July 11, 2011 at 11:50 AM #

      Do you realize that the opinions of some town residents have little to do with the stance our “justice system”? Moreover, how many of those residents actually think like that? It should also be noted that “Some” is an inaccurate term and could in this case mean,for example, a group of ten people.

      No, society doesn’t accept that kind of thinking. Just because some people think in a certain way it doesn’t mean that this particular way of thinking is socially acceptable. Likewise, there are people with pedophilic tendencies, but that doesn’t mean pedophilia is commonly accepted.

      While it’s horrific to blame genuine victims, I doubt that case in question reflects the general attitude of society as a whole. The justice system doesn’t seem to go easy on the alleged rapists either, for other sources indicate that each of those men can receive a sentence varying from 25 years to life in prison.

  2. Mhairi Mcalpine July 7, 2011 at 4:24 PM #

    There needs to be a root and branch rethink of how sexual assaults are handled in the justice system. It works to protect rapists, to promote rape myths through the defences presented, to abuse women by treating them as a crime scene rather than a victim and to retraumatise them by forcing them to recount their assault multiple times.

    In the UK, the lifetime prevalence for rape is 25%, 90% of rapes go unreported and in Scotland the number of sucessful prosecutions is under 5%. If you rape someone you have a 0.5% chance of being sucessfully prosecuted – rape is effectively legal.

    DSK has form for this, there is forensic evidence. Yet a whole load of crap is being published about *her* which has fuck all to do with what actually went on in that room. The media perpetrate myths which are eagerly jumped on by defence lawyers for their clients and those making the decisions on prosecutions who have no vested interest. The victim of the assault, once she has done being a crime scene, becomes a witness for the state, yet the state offers her no protection.

    The state has a interest in moderating behaviour, and it is only the “good” victim that the state will protect, as it protects their narratives. When there is a “bad” victim, who hasnt played by the state’s rules – taken drugs, got drunk, entered the country illegally, the state will not protect them – the state has far more interest in protecting the rapists – the fine upstanding IMF executives, police officers, sports stars and authority figures.

    The justice system surrounding rape isnt about protecting women, its about controlling them, making sure that they know that they must behave in state sanctioned ways or they are liable to be fucked at will.

    DSK cannot, CANNOT be allowed to get away with this.

    • eeshap July 8, 2011 at 8:49 AM #

      Thanks for your comments and likes, crunk friends. I wanted to draw your attention to a great analysis about why a rape survivor might lie in such instances. It’s an important element of this conversation, as well, especially regarding “credibility.”

      — Eesha

  3. Sapphire Sister July 8, 2011 at 8:11 AM #

    This is why I’m done with the so-called justice system. Vigilante, “The Brave One,”, retribution will be the order of the day from now on.

  4. ronyo July 8, 2011 at 8:35 AM #

    We shouldn’t adjust burden of proof for the underlying crime. We SHOULD adjust burden of proof when it comes to credibility, and that’s a question of perception. It’s a shame that this case probably will never go to a jury because, as stated in this post, the state has decided only to protect certain narratives. Only “good” victims gets justice (and I doubt even that “good” victims do get justice).

    I think we should let a jury of DSK’s peers decide if lying on an asylum application (which is WAY different than lying about consenting to a sexual encounter) is material. In fact, I’m not even sure the judge should allow that in a case between DSK and the victim, as the danger for unfair prejudice substantially outweighs the probative value of such evidencee. The same goes for speaking to a boyfriend who is in jail about the probable outcome of a civil suit. YES, there’s probably money in it for her. Because under the ideal justice system, a victim should have faith that courts are going to award damages to make her whole. Stating that fact is not tantamount to plotting a conspiracy. It’s a fact.

    • ChaimLavon July 9, 2011 at 12:45 PM #

      For the most part I think Ronyo’s got it right… The burdens the justice system creates for the prosecution are about right. The presumption of innocence applies in all cases, not just rape cases. Character evidence against accusers is likewise admissible in all criminal cases (with the exception of evidence of a victim’s sexual history in sexual assault cases), because we generally think its fair to allow the accused to demonstrate that an accuser has a propensity to lie, cheat, take advantage, etc. The problem is less these legal standards, than in how society (judges, attorneys, jurors) intersects with them. Unfortunately, people are more likely to doubt the stories of survivors who don’t fit a racist, classist, victim ideal, and to give more weight to character evidence than is normally due in such cases. How do we address this at a systemic level? There have to be better ways than to toss out the rules that courts apply in all other cases. Statutes that allow for more vigorous jury examinations in rape cases, or specifically permitted sociologists/psychologists/historians to testify at trial about why rape is so underreported, would likely help.

  5. Rohan July 10, 2011 at 6:17 PM #

    Whilst I agree with many points raised in this article, I feel a need to point out something important about the way these (and all other types of) crimes are handled.

    I refer, of course, to the presumption innocence until evidence is obtained that proves, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the accused is guilty.

    One of the problems with rape is the difficulty in proving it. When you couple that with the fact that an allegation of any type of sexual crime (even if never convicted) can be enough to completely ruin the career and life of the accused, I do understand why efforts are made to determine whether the accuser has a history of dishonesty. In fact, I would say the same about any crime where there is little evidence except for personal testimony.

    I personally believe that the majority of rape allegations are based in truth. Unfortunately however, it would be utterly insane for anyone to suggest that no one has ever made a false accusation of rape. However rare, it has most certainly happened before and this is why the accused need to be treated fairly and with due process.

    Let’s assume just for one moment that he has been falsely accused and that it is, ultimately, his word against hers. What strategy should his lawyers be employing?

    I would be very interested to see some examples of sexual assault accusations made against women and how the accusers have been treated. I would hedge a bet that the same type of legal strategies are employed by lawyers when the person being accused is a woman. The fact that, statistically, the vast majority of sexual assaults are committed by men does not mean that our legal system is sexist.

    • crunktastic July 10, 2011 at 7:36 PM #

      Actually, the presumption of innocence has clearly worked in his favor. And rather than focusing on the strategies of DSK’s lawyers, this piece questioned the D.A.’s office which is supposed to maintain the rights of the “innocent until proven guilty” while also seeking justice for the victim. Your comments implicitly assume that rape victims are disadvantaged because in order to prove rape we rely on a system that focuses on whether these women have lived perfect lives up to that point. This means that women are at an implicit disadvantage when they are raped because they have to be above reproach to even have their concerns heard, and if they are at an implicit disadvantage, that is sexist. It also cannot be forgotten that rich white male privilege has yet again trumped immigrant working class woman of color disadvantages . Have you considered that DSK’s past has not created disadvantages for him here, and he has a history of volatile sexual activities with women if his latest young French accuser is to be believed. Why should his past be handled with kid gloves but his victims’ pasts handled with iron gloves? The bottom line is that her associations, etc, have absolutely nothing to do with whether this man violated this woman when she came to clean his room. It doesn’t matter if she is connected to drug felons (hell, I’m come from a family with several folks with drug-related convictions and I routinely speak to them); it matters what happened. And the idea that the DA’s office would think her incredible because she doesn’t have a perfect past means they aren’t really interested in justice, but rather in winning. And that is unfortunate, not to mention racist, classist, and sexist. [And remember that in the end intent matters less than impact. Even if the DA’s office is not implicitly discriminating against this woman because of her race, class, or gender, if a system consistently privileges one race, class, or gender over the other, then no matter the intent of the actors, the system is oppressive based on its impact.]

    • ChaimLavon July 10, 2011 at 7:38 PM #

      “The fact that, statistically, the vast majority of sexual assaults are committed by men does not mean that our legal system is sexist.”

      I don’t think anyone is making that argument, and that a prosecutor might also try to discredit the accuser of a female assailant does not prove that the system /isn’t/ sexist.

      Our legal system is sexist because, actually… crunktastic just put it much better than I would have.

  6. Helel July 11, 2011 at 12:30 PM #

    “It seems that in cases of violence against women, the burden of proof falls squarely on the shoulders of the woman who brings the case to court.”

    Every time somebody is accusing someone else of something the burden of proof should be placed on the accuser. This applies to not only the cases of violence against women, but also to every other type of case there is or at least it should. This is a part of the due process of law.

    In rape cases such as this one the court doesn’t have any evidence, only claims from both parties.. There sure is evidence that the parties have had sex, but whether or not it was consensual is open to doubt. This forms a problem as there are no physical injuries, and therefore the same evidence is in keeping with both: consensual sex and rape. The accuser says it wasn’t and the accused says it was, and who are we to believe? The more credible party of course, and these cases are all about the credibility due to the total lack of substantial evidence of rape. (There is evidence of sexual intercourse, but that doesn’t automatically that the crime took place.)

    The accuser had lied about all sorts of things between the heaven and the earth and she was recorded while discussing the financial benefits of the rape claim. While this doesn’t exclude the possibility of the rape having actually happened, at this point her claims seem so tenuous that there is no reason to call a crusade on Strauss-Kahn.

    “And then we wonder why only 16% of rapes are reported. ”
    I don’t believe these estimations because it’s mathematically impossible to solve how many cases go unreported if one doesn’t know the total number of the cases, and obviously, that isn’t possible because some cases are not reported.

  7. L.D. July 12, 2011 at 4:01 PM #

    “The accuser had lied about all sorts of things between the heaven and the earth and she was recorded while discussing the financial benefits of the rape claim. ”

    Helel, the point was not that the accused was an angel, but that her past damages her credibility, while DSK’s sketchy past does not. Why as a society do we hold rape victims (who are overwhelmingly women and girls) to a higher standard then the rapists? It is impossible to really discuss this topic and sexual assault in general without acknowledging sexism, racism, and all the other isms and phobias that are present in our society.

    “I don’t believe these estimations because it’s mathematically impossible to solve how many cases go unreported if one doesn’t know the total number of the cases, and obviously, that isn’t possible because some cases are not reported.”

    Sorry, but I have to get real here. You must not come in contact with many people or read much news if you honestly are suggesting that only 16% of people in our society have been raped or assaulted.

  8. herpderpfeminazi July 13, 2011 at 1:55 PM #

    This is for you, hypocrites.

    • L.D. July 18, 2011 at 5:19 PM #

      So CFC are hypocrites because they are talking about how rape is handled by the US justice system? Was the CFC post implying that DSK is guilty because he has had affairs, as the article you posted says that feminists are doing? Who in this particular situation is a hypocrite?


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