Here We Go Again: Media Coverage of High Profile Rape Cases   5 comments

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.

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5 responses to “Here We Go Again: Media Coverage of High Profile Rape Cases

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  1. I think your point about rape being much more about anger than sex are right on point – it isn’t for anything that DSK has his moon in Aries – which because it’s undergoing a difficult transit from Uranus at this time certainly is suggestive of Anger Excitation.

  2. great post – following the media coverage particularly the coverage on france’s reaction has been enraging. i am so sick of this rape as seduction nonsense – how should victims feel? like they’ve been seduced and should smile about it? it’s disgusting how much misogyny has come france recently…not a good place to live if you’re a woman!

  3. Very good post. I dearly hope to go the rest of my life without hearing or reading the phrase “honey trap” ever again. I’m not sure if I’d never seen it before the Assange case or if the usage had been so out of the way I quickly forgot about it, but that’s kinda off-putting under any circumstances and seriously disgusting when applied to a rape case. A lot of people really, really need to pay more attention to what they are saying.

    Rape is not seduction is not rape is not sex is not rape. None of this should be remotely difficult to grasp for, well, anyone who knows the meaning of the words. Which means the conflation of terms almost has to be deliberate, or else the people using them have seriously disturbing perceptions of reality. Sadly, after making slow forward progress for decades, at least in most circles, it seems societal attitudes about rape have been steadily regressing for at least the last ten years.

    Most of what I’d say about the media you already have, so not really much to add. I don’t even have words for the Corrente post and (even worse) the follow-up comments from the original poster (and a few other people) who kept digging a deeper and deeper hole even after 7 or 8 people pointed out to her clearly and in detail what was offensive about her language and framing and continued harping about the supposed false accusation involving someone she once knew, which sole case (assuming it even exists, or took place in the way she thinks it did) is somehow supposed to weigh equally againt every other case in existence. (it should be noted that I have liked many of that person’s posts and comments over the years, but this is really inexcusable).

    Re: Jeralyn — I haven’t been to talk left since she was waxing eloquent on the innocence of Polanski and how the poor New York congressman that cut up his girlfriend’s face *on camera* was being railroaded.

    And lastly two points– (1) why do so many people on the left think this dude is some great liberal hero? He was a top-ranking IMF official. It’s self-congratulatory PR aside, that organization basically exists so the rich can better exploit the non-rich. That he is currently making some socialist noises doesn’t mean he’s sincere.

    (2) Even if he does have the some good ideas (I don’t know his political platform so can’t really say), that doesn’t mean he isn’t a misogynist asshat, which seems pretty clear from his past, and it doesn’t mean he isn’t a rapist. I swear, lefties talk about the Republicans marching in authoritarian lockstep but a lot of us are just as tribalistic and knee jerk “yay team” types as the right wingers.

  4. I have very little to add considering it’s the middle of the night and I’m half-asleep, but what I do want to say is thank you. I stumbled across your blog tonight and although I didn’t know it, I really needed to hear somebody else say this. People who are brave enough to stand up and say these things make me realise the good there is in the world. Thank you. 🙂

  5. Sasha,

    Just ended up your way from comments you made elsewhere. I want to add to Nikki’s support.

    Regarding “honey trap” – I remember the term from old spy novels and pulp fiction. I don’ t think I ever encountered it as meaning anything other than getting someone to sleep around in order to put them in a comprimising position. (They were married, they slept with an enemy agent, they were homosexual, etc.) I never saw it used as a “lured into rape or rape charges” manner until it showed up that way in the last year or so.

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