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 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.