Another powerful man has been accused of sexually assaulting a woman, and while it may be tempting to say that the media coverage has been shockingly bad, the truth is that there’s nothing shocking or even surprising about it. This is the type of coverage we’ve come to expect every time a woman has the tremendous courage needed to report a rape, particularly when the man who raped her is rich and powerful and she isn’t.
Unless you’ve spent the past week under a rock, you’ve heard about the arrest of International Monetary Fund chief (now resigned) Dominique Strauss-Kahn on sexual assault charges. DSK, who also happened to be the likely presidential candidate of the French Socialist Party and a very real threat to Sarkozy, stands accused of anally and orally assaulting a hotel employee and attempting to rape her vaginally. The victim, a poor African immigrant employed as a chambermaid, reported the attack to hotel management who eventually called the police. When the cops arrived, DSK had already left the hotel and was headed to JFK to grab the afternoon flight back to France. Police caught up with him at the airport ten minutes before take-off and took him into custody.
It’s not so much the actual case I want to discuss as the puke-worthy media coverage on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s as if feminism never happened! Feminists have tried to get across the message that rape isn’t sex and isn’t even about sex for, oh I don’t know, several decades now. Rape can be about power, control, entitlement, anger, rage, domination, and hate. Sexual contact/penetration is just the weapon. FBI profilers divide rapists into four categories–Power Reassurance, Power Assertive, Anger Retaliatory, and Anger Excitation–based on their motivation and modus operandi. Nowhere to be found in this typology is the “nice guy” who is so overcome with sexual desire by the sight of an attractive woman that he “just can’t help himself.” That’s because that guy doesn’t exist.
Unfortunately this message has clearly been falling on deaf ears. Not only does the mainstream media believe that rape is about sex, but they’re actually repeating the refrain of rape apologists everywhere that rape is just sex. News report after news report refers to the allegations against DSK as “sex charges,” a “sex scandal,” and a “hotel-sex case.” And I’ve lost track of the number of articles equating an act of torture (yes, rape is recognized as a form of torture) with extramarital affairs or eccentric but consensual sexual practices, while the author ponders the “cultural divide” between France and the US. The LA Times, for example, informs us that “(i)n sexual matters, the French consider themselves open-minded and liberal and dismiss Americans in particular — and Anglo-Saxons in general — as puritanical and uptight. It follows, therefore, that a French politician’s sexual peccadilloes, extramarital affairs and indiscretions are nobody’s business but his own.” Oh yeah, totally. Some dude tearing off your clothes and ramming his dick into every orifice as you’re desperately trying to fight him off, hey, that’s just a minor indiscretion on his part. Nobody’s business but his own and certainly nothing to make a big deal about. After all, you wouldn’t want to be “puritanical and uptight.”
Even news reports that mention the word “rape” do their best to minimize the crime. I’ve seen at least a dozen articles stating that DSK is charged with “attempted rape.” Technically that is correct, because under New York’s penal code, rape requires sexual intercourse, and sexual intercourse is defined as penis-in-vagina. While DSK is charged with attempting to rape the victim vaginally, she was apparently able to escape vaginal penetration. But what these journalists “forget” to tell their readers is that DSK did allegedly rape the victim orally and anally. That’s why he is also charged with two counts of criminal sexual acts in the first degree, a crime defined as “engag(ing) in oral sexual conduct or anal sexual conduct with another person by forcible compulsion.”
Portraying this as an “attempted” rape plays into the “no harm, no foul” view of the case. That’s also why several articles have emphasized that the victim was treated for minor injuries and then released. Translation: She’s fine; why ruin a man’s life over nothing? Of course many forms of torture do not leave the victim with severe physical injuries, but that doesn’t diminish their profound impact on the victim’s life. And while the horror inflicted on the alleged victim is routinely ignored or minimized, the media, particularly in France, has been focusing in exquisite detail on the “nightmare” poor DSK is forced to endure.
Sadly it’s not just the mainstream media that’s indulging in rape apologia and attempting to discredit the victim. I crossed most not-specifically-feminist lefty blogs off my reading list during the misogyny fest of the 2008 primaries, but the few that remain have not exactly covered themselves in glory with regard to this case (or the Assange case before it). Rape culture propaganda always hurts most when it’s propagated by supposed allies. Coming from her usual skewed defense attorney perspective, Jeralyn at TalkLeft has a whole series of posts in which she perpetuates the myth of the “he said/she said” case, proposes a “rough sex” defense, suggests that the victim may have tried to extort money from DSK, entertains conspiracy theories, and frets over the “unfair” treatment of poor DSK. Conspiracy theories are also popular at Corrente where the blog’s resident rape apologist–a woman who thinks nothing of referring to a brutal rape as “sex” and never misses an opportunity to remind readers that women lie about these things–suggests that DSK may have gotten ensnared in a “honey trap.” It’s all pretty revolting.
Is it possible that DSK’s political opponents paid the alleged victim to “seduce” DSK (he is now admitting that sexual contact took place) and then claim she was raped? Given the facts of this case, I’d say it’s unlikely. It is far more likely that this uber-entitled sexist asshat did exactly what he has been accused of. DSK has a history of sexually harassing and assaulting women. The French press dubbed him The Great Seducer. In a rape culture, many people have trouble telling the difference between seduction and assault, so his reputation as a “ladies man” isn’t exactly surprising. Nor are non-feminists likely to notice that when DSK talks about how much he “loves women,” he sounds an awful lot like someone discussing his love for wine or fast cars. To guys like DSK, women aren’t unique, multi-dimensional human beings like men. As far as he’s concerned, female people are a more or less monolithic group; at best there are “types”–you know, sexy blondes, sultry redheads, cute Asians, hot Latinas. Or, even more basic, those he wants to fuck and those he doesn’t. If a woman belongs to the former group, she’s an object for consumption; if she belongs to the latter, she’s invisible. Some choice.
For anyone saying that I’ve already convicted the man, no, not at all. I’m keeping an open mind, which is more than I can say for those convinced that this must be some type of setup. If there is evidence of a setup, I’m all ears. What I’m not going to do, though, is entertain any defense that relies on bullshit misogynist rape culture tropes to work. Such as the one where she’s just pretending to work as a maid and is really a prostitute who got angry and “cried rape” because he didn’t pay her enough (you know what those whores are like).
French feminists say that if DSK had done the same thing in France, the hotel, police, press, and DA’s office would all be conspiring to make the case go away without anyone ever hearing about it; they feel encouraged by the US justice system. I say, “not so fast.” Filing rape charges is one thing; getting a conviction is another. When it comes to rich, powerful men accused of rape actually being convicted, we have a very poor track record. Even if there is a conviction, the sentence will probably be a slap on the wrist. And yet French feminists have a point. The fact that NY police and prosecutors are taking seriously the accusation of a poor, black, female immigrant against a rich, white, mega powerful man is progress that is not to be dismissed. Now if only the media would quit spewing nonstop rape culture propaganda.