• Tue, Jul 5 2011

What The Dominique Strauss-Kahn Case Confirms About Rape Culture

As has been reported in the news these past few days, the New York DA’s once strong rape case against former International Monetary Fund leader (and potential French presidential candidate) Dominique Strauss-Kahn is unraveling rapidly. As with many rape cases, the defense’s main tactic is to impugn the credibility of the victim, and they have done a fairly good job of that. Among other things, it’s come to light that the woman lied on her asylum application in order to move to the U.S. from her native Guinea, lied on her taxes in order to get a better refund and qualify for subsidized housing, and may or may not be participating in money laundering. Because everyone knows that only saintly virgins are rape-able, the DA’s office is seriously reconsidering its stance on this high profile case; it doesn’t want to choose a battle it might not win. Strauss-Kahn has been released without bail, and he is now allowed to travel within the U.S.

Because there is physical evidence of the attack taking place (he dislocated her shoulder, among other things), the defense is saying that the victim was, in fact, a prostitute, and the sex was consensual, despite having zero evidence of her being a prostitute (and despite the fact that it’s not normal for a john to dislocate a hooker’s shoulder). If she lied about one thing, then she must be lying about everything, right?

Newsflash: sometimes bad things happen to bad people. And sometimes bad things happen to human people who are just doing what they think they need to do to provide for their children while making minimum wage as a hotel maid. The fact that the woman is less than perfect does not make her any less likely to have been a victim of rape, and the fact that she felt the need to lie about certain aspects of herself shows that she understands that in a rape culture such as this, one has to be the “perfect victim” in order to even have a ghost of a chance at getting justice.

A feminist blog called Sasha Said has a great, eloquent take on the matter in a post called “When Rape Victims Lie.” The whole thing bears reading, but here is a salient excerpt:

Most of the lies rape victims tell revolve around their use of alcohol or drugs, their relationship to the perpetrator, their reason for being in the place the rape occurred, their behavior before/during/after the rape, or their background. Virtually all lies are told to make oneself appear more like the rape culture’s idea of the “good” or “worthy” victim and/or to make one’s assault more closely resemble the rape culture’s “real rape” script.

As you have probably heard, the sexual assault case against former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is unraveling because the alleged victim lied. Not about being sexually assaulted, mind you, but about her background and also about what she did in the immediate aftermath of the attack. She now says that instead of reporting the assault to her supervisor right away, she initially cleaned another hotel room, then returned to DSK’s empty suite and began cleaning, and only then did she report the attack.

I’ve talked to several people who think this is damning evidence against her, but if we weren’t living in a rape culture, it really wouldn’t be. It’s not at all unusual to be in shock following a sexual assault and to continue going through the motions. I know ’cause I’ve done it. In fact, if the whole thing was a setup and she “seduced” DSK with the intention of accusing him of sexual assault (either in hopes of being paid off to drop the charges or awarded sizable damages in a civil suit following the criminal conviction), you can bet that she would have run crying to her supervisor right away! This sounds like a classic case of a victim lying about some aspects of her rape so they won’t be at odds with people’s very limited idea of what “real rape” looks like.

Apparently she also misrepresented her income to qualify for subsidized housing, lied on her taxes to qualify for a bigger refund, and lied on her asylum application about being gang raped (after being instructed to do so by a man working on her asylum case; she had been raped in Guinea, but not in the way she described to prosecutors). Additionally, there are some indications that she may be involved in a drug dealing and money laundering operation, and a man described as her boyfriend is serving time on a drug charge. All of this makes her a “bad” victim, the kind of woman men can rape with impunity. She did not want to be that kind of woman. And so she lied.

She represented herself to police and prosecutors the way she believed she had to in order to be considered a “worthy” victim. A victim deserving of sympathy and justice.

Basically, rape victims know they need to lie about themselves in order to keep their “credibility” from being undermined by the defense. They understand that they need to do this in order to even have a shot at seeing their rapists convicted. Then, when those lies are uncovered, their credibility is even worse than it would’ve been if they’d just told the whole truth at the beginning. But if they’d told the truth, the case might not have been brought in the first place. It’s a horrible catch-22. If the DA had known beforehand that she had a checkered past, would they have even bothered to arrest Strauss-Kahn and try him? It’s doubtful.

Meanwhile, Strauss-Kahn is facing a new attempted rape lawsuit, this time back in France. Accuser Tristane Banon is much better connected, but I’m guessing she’s not the “ideal” victim, either. I can’t think of a single other crime where the victim’s “character” has such a huge impact on whether or not the jury thinks the crime actually took place.

 

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  • Eileen

    I was with you until the last sentence. The credibility of witnesses and the general appeal of victims comes up in a lot of crimes (while it’s on the news, does anyone think the Casey Anthony trial would have been as big a deal if she’d been accused of murdering someone who wasn’t her adorable two-year-old daughter?). This is a problem that comes up a lot in sexual assault cases, of course, and sexual assault has a lot of its own problems (since people focus on the “sexual” rather than the ASSAULT), but everybody wants a sympathetic victim and witnesses who’ve never lied or cheated at anything.

  • porkchop

    Thanks for writing about this. I’ve felt so uneasy about this case since we found out the maid is a LIAR, even though a “more qualified” victim has come forward.

    I do find rape a seriously complicated issue because if there’s evidence of a sex act, it’s one person’s word against another. However, it never ceases to amaze me how much more we treasure the reputation of the accused over the word of the accuser.

  • Cecily

    God help me if I ever get raped.
    Have I told big lies? Yep.
    Would I lie to get my child and myself asylum? Yep
    Do I have dodgy relatives? Probably
    If DSK raped me and I found out who he was (and howmuch power he yields), would the thought cross my mind of getting the most I can out of this situation, so at least some good can come of it for my child and I? Almost absolutely.

    Why is it ANY surprise that a poor Guinean migrant has lied for basic economic and social security?

    Fact of the matter is, DSK’S people knew it wouldn’t be a surprise. And they did the right amount of digging.

    Since character counts for so much, why dont we examine DSK’s?
    Here is a man with an extensive track record of sexually harrasing, coercing, and violently intimidating numerous women(some French and Christian and white and credible, y’all!). Here is a man who, when the charges were brought against him, found that they were met with little to no surprise by those who have worked with him and know him best (many of whom chose to remain anonymous).

    Oh, but his wife and BFF jumped to his defence, so I guess that must count for a lot.

  • Barbara

    Unfortunately, not that many sexual assault cases are he-said-she-said. They’re only like that if she has no corroborating evidence (I’m ignoring DNA). She had a dislocated shoulder- that’s corroborating evidence! Definitely unfortunate that this has not been prosecuted to the full extent of the law. He should at least be charged for assault, even if not sexual!
    It’s very sad that we act as though sexual assault is always always always a credibility issue alone- sometimes it isn’t. In this case it is certainly not. It is just about trashing the victim to make the problem go away.