Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dominique Strauss-Kahn Follow-up

Since our last post, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the famous and influential French economist who was accused of sexual assault and attempted rape by a New York hotel maid, was released from house arrest after prosecutors decided that the woman's past would make prosecution of Strauss-Kahn difficult.
According to a letter filed by prosecutors in court on Friday, the housekeeper from Guinea lied about her actions right after the alleged attack, as well as on her tax returns and in an application for asylum.
So women who lie on their tax returns can't be raped?

Certainly an accuser's credibility will be in question in a crime with no witnesses, but rape cases in particular often take on the feel of a well-organized character assassination against victims. The New York Post ran a front-page story alleging the victim in this case was a "hooker". Others have called her a liar, criminal, or gold-digger. Still others have said she shouldn't be believed because she is just a hotel maid.

A poster at the Crunk Feminist Collective lays it out well:
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.
Those accused of a crime are innocent until proven guilty. Can't we extend the same courtesy toward victims? Instead of smearing them in the media and attacking their characters, can't we assume that it is possible for any woman to be raped. Trust us, there isn't much to gain from falsely accusing someone, especially someone famous and well-connected, of rape. This case illustrates that pretty well. Instead, can we assume that a possible victim has a good reason to make the report, and allow the courts to do their job in trying the case? Is it so impossible to believe that women who lie on their taxes, women who have friends in jail, women who have prostituted themselves, women who drink a lot or have lots of sex, or women who otherwise don't look like "perfect" victims can still be raped? In fact, those women are probably more vulnerable to sexual assault because they are less likely to be believed by law enforcement and judges. If only 6% of rapists ever see a day in jail, leaving 94% available to rape again, we would be better served taking women's claims seriously and making it a less traumatizing process to prosecute those who use violence against women. We may never know if DSK is actually guilty of this crime, because it may never make it to trial. For women everywhere who have experienced sexual assault, how is that justice?

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