Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The "Good" Victim

Recently, the now-former head of the International Monetary Fund has been in the headlines regarding the current sex scandal surrounding him. However, this incidence carries with it much more gravity than Schwarzenegger’s secret love-child. In the case of Frenchman Dominique Strauss-Kahn, he is facing charges of attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment after a housekeeper at the New York hotel he was staying at a few weeks ago went to the police, saying she had almost been forced to have sex with Strauss-Kahn and resisted his attempts, at which point he forced her to perform oral sex upon him. Now under house arrest after bail was made by his wife, Strauss-Kahn’s future as a major global player is under duress. Since his arrest he has resigned from his position as chief of the IMF and his candidacy for President of France is uncertain at best. Where once he had been a likely contender, this recent scandal has taken a hit on his public image.
All the while, the media has been poised to hear about the outcome of this case, and details as they emerge. For the most part, media coverage surrounding the impending trial, in accordance with journalistic integrity, has remained unbiased on the case. News has been coming out about the state of Strauss-Kahn, who had previously been on suicide watch, the women coming forward from his past with similar sexual harassment and assault stories, and the anonymous sources reporting that DNA evidence has been obtained in the case. And despite all of this, media outlets are still quick to point out that no judgment has been passed down as of yet, and due to the nature of the case being solely anecdotal, with the housekeeper saying that force was used and Strauss-Kahn’s camp saying anything that happened between the two was purely consensual.
However, some still like to speculate on the case, and give their two cent’s regarding their perceptions as to Strauss-Kahn’s innocence or guilt.
Ben Stein, celebrity figure and economist, published an article in The American Spectator offering his reasoning as to why Strauss-Kahn is probably innocent. He gives the slightest bit of leeway at the beginning in case it turns out the former IMF Chief is indeed guilty by saying at the very beginning, “…it’s possible indeed, maybe even likely that he is guilty as the prosecutors charge…” and then continues on for the duration of the essay to explain why we should not be so quick to believe the allegations against Strauss-Kahn. To summarize:

1. If Strauss-Kahn’s such a womanizer and so violent, why hasn’t he been charged before with any crimes?
2. People who commit crimes are criminals, and people who are experts in the economy are economists—these paths do not cross.
3. Strauss-Kahn is a short fat old man, and since he was unarmed there was no possible way he could force a woman into any sexual interaction.
4. He should not be considered a flight risk just because he was leaving on a flight when he was arrested, since the flight was booked months in advance.
5. Just because he has been arrested for a serious crime does not mean he should be treated like a criminal. Shouldn’t an important man be treated better?
6. Those some maids are good people, some maids steal and act like lunatics. How do we know which kind of person Strauss-Kahn’s accuser is?
7. There has yet to be a conviction, and without a conviction we cannot be certain he is a criminal –“Innocent until proven guilty”
8. Strauss-Kahn’s case is one of poor people being jealous of rich people.

Please read Stein’s article, and you will quickly see that my summary is not an exaggeration of his points.

Many have taken to the internet to point out the flaws inherent in the argument Stein makes, as well as similar talking points made by Strauss-Kahn’s friend and fellow Frenchman Bernard-Henri Levy .
James Urbaniak posted a list of results from a quick google search of economists accused of sexual assault and abuse in response to Stein’s question, “Can anyone tell me any economists who have been convicted of violent sex crimes?”. The Gothamist makes a counter to Stein’s query, “If {Stein is] such a womanizer and violent guy with women, why didn’t he get charged until now?” with the story of Tristane Banon, a journalist who had to forcibly fend off sexual advances in 2002 and afterwards was pressured into not pursuing legal recourse. The Huffington Post points out not only the tautological, roundabout reasoning behind the statement “people who commit crimes tend to be criminals”, but focuses the core of their article to the idea of “good victim” and a “good victimizer”, and what it takes to be considered as such.
What could draw Stein and Levy to come to the defense of Strauss-Kahn, a notable lothario? No one denies that he has a history of illicit affairs. However, it seems that his rank and status grants him greater privileges than the rest of society, at least according to his defenders. He should be given the benefit of the doubt; he shouldn’t be barred from returning to his country; he shouldn’t be placed into jail like a man accused of a crime, despite the fact that he has been accused of a crime, and a serious one at that. As for the maid who stands as his accuser? Are we not to trust her, as Stein implies? She is a working-class member of society, and given Stein’s anecdotal evidence against maids, we are supposed to devalue her claims. Not only that, but Levy taunts Banon as well, saying that, “…this one French, who pretends to have been the victim of the same kind of attempted rape, who has shut up for eight years but, sensing the golden opportunity, whips out her old dossier and comes to flog it on television..” and as such does not deserve to be taken seriously either. Barring videotaped evidence or admission of guilt from Strauss-Kahn himself, these men seem set on making the automatic assumption that the women claiming to be victims are the ones not to be trusted.
This kind of behavior, this passing of judgment against women whom these men have never even bothered to speak to, simply reinforces an already existing sense within the community of sexual assault victims that it is not even worth your time to try and report sexual assault, especially against someone in a position of authority over you, because there with undoubtedly be people who question you and undermine your assertions. Regardless of the outcome of this case against Strauss-Kahn, whether he is proven innocent or found guilty, it is unsettling to see such examples of persons in positions of power, coming to the defense of their fellow power holders, while quickly denouncing the weak, those who need defending the most, in order to make their voices heard.