The Dominique Strauss-Kahn Case: ‘Start By Believing’ Still Makes Sense

A few months ago, I posted on the Start By Believing Campaign being led by an organization I serve (EVAW, Int’l).  In response, a less-than-impressed commenter asked me rhetorically “When do you stop believing, Roger?”  While I actually answered that in the post itself, a further comment of his illuminated the disconnect between us:

“Does the sympathy I feel for a victim decrease in correlation to the increase of their voluntary consumption of alcohol, flirtation, placing themselves into precarious positions, and style of dress? Yes.”

This statement encapsulates the all too common but remarkably misguided belief that victims, usually but not always women, invite victimization when behaving less than monastically. I guess my question back to this commenter should be “How much, exactly, does your sympathy decrease, and through what factors?”  But this of course begs other questions: If she wore a skirt above the knee during a “girl’s night” outing in a big city, does she still merit assistance, treatment and legal vindication, or just medical treatment, but no criminal justice response? How much does each drink she consumes ratchet down her rightful access to our system of justice?  At what exact point of flirtation she does she forfeit the right to be supported by the people she reveals the attack to later? In terms of quantification, there must be a calculus for how we measure out sympathy versus scorn when it comes to sexual violence for people who “ask for it.”

Or maybe that attitude is nonsensical and unsupported by anything that relates to the reality of how and why people are sexually assaulted.

I believe that each of us bears some responsibility for our personal safety. I readily shake my head in frustration when I see someone blithely short-cutting alone through a dark alley while wearing earphones, for instance.  Yes, there are things we can and should do to reduce our own vulnerability to crime. But first, even when we have acted in a way that (perhaps) made us more of an easy target than we would like, it’s never our fault when someone else chooses to attack and victimize us. Second, the nature of sexual assault, particularly non-stranger sexual assault, is unique. No other crime bears with it the level of scrutiny toward the victim’s actions than does non-stranger sexual assault. No other crime, through myth and mistake, shields the perpetrator as completely as does sexual violence.  And when a power differential is introduced into the mix, the odds against the victim go through the roof.

The track record of IMF Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, punctuated by his latest apparent sexual attack in New York City, is yet another reminder of how myths surrounding sexual violence can protect a powerful man from prosecution for decades (see an excellent and balanced op-ed on this story from my colleagues at Counterquo here). The fact that a relatively powerless (to put it mildly) hotel worker reported him for it is stunning. My guess is Strauss-Kahn was stunned also. I have a strong feeling he’s relied on the relative powerlessness of his victims for years. By many reports, there has never been a shortage of them. Strauss-Kahn hasn’t always chosen hotel maids, but also journalists and other professionals. In particular, his “affair” with Hungarian former IMF economist Piroska Nagy appears to have been consummated by the relentless pressure he put on her while she reported to him.

Ben Stein, a very bright guy who nevertheless seems to be getting more and more bizarre lately, wrote perhaps the most stunningly ignorant piece defending Strauss-Kahn. In it, he wonders aloud how DSK could possibly have gotten away with sexual violence and/or sexual harassment for so long with no one coming forward. Mr. Stein must know precious little about the dynamics between the powerful and the relatively powerless if he has any doubt regarding the feasibility of a track record like DSK’s. Sadly, I think Stein keenly understands how power works and what it can suppress. But like so many others, he has a huge blind spot where sexual violence is concerned, and is willing to entertain any number of alternate theories in order to avoid seeing what is as clear as his own face in a mirror. In the very next paragraph, he suggests that “in life, events tend to follow patterns.”  Indeed, Mr. Stein, they do. And the pattern of sexual misconduct, sexual harassment and sexual violence that DSK has been perpetrating is beyond obvious.

The answer is this: Dominique Strauss-Kahn, like most men who commit acts of sexual violence, is a serial predator. It is not at all unusual that his pattern involves violent acts as well as manipulative ones. There are certainly “womanizers” the world over who pursue arguably immoral sexual acts, even by the less uptight standards of the French. But this can be and often is done without creating legal victims (either criminally or civilly) with threats, work-place pressure, intimidation or physical violence. Strauss-Kahn is, by all appearances, someone who has crossed the line between what is despicable and what is actionable or criminal.

Nevertheless, there will never be a shortage of people like Ben Stein who are blind to the reality of sexual violence, or my erstwhile commenter who are more than ready to blame the victims of such violence for being insufficiently vigilant, insufficiently well-behaved, or insufficiently cloistered. It’s not necessarily evil to think this way, but it’s grossly misguided and it’s protecting perpetrators and damming victims.  In short, it’s furthering a cycle we desperately need to break.

8 thoughts on “The Dominique Strauss-Kahn Case: ‘Start By Believing’ Still Makes Sense

  1. Cate

    I was amazed while watching a news clip regarding DSK with two different relatives. Both, separately, commented that IF it happened, what would a guy like that want with some chambermaid. Neither is Neanderthal in regard to women. To the male I explained he could only see the situation from his seat as a healthy, consensual- sex seeking male. Not from the predatory stance that wanted to extract humiliation instead of mutual pleasure. He was startled. When I approached it similarly with the female her eyes opened wide with recognition. She said something to the effect, “oh, what did this guy to to her [the victim]”. It made me wonder how less experienced or less educated people regard news reports of this nature. I guess that’s why so many of us face derision and misery when women report what has happened to them.

  2. Sarah

    I’m intrigued by the commenter above and the man’s reaction to the idea of power and humiliation vs. mutual pleasure.

    I think this is an aspect of sexual assault that needs to be more openly discussed and explained. Like the man mentioned above, most people think of sexual assault in terms of sex and lust, not the deeper subconscious motivations of exerting power over someone weaker. Changing this thought process would hopefully decrease this ‘blame the victim’ mentality.

    Also saddens me that the woman interviewed instantly recognized this sort of behavior. I would not be surprised if a large majority of American women have had a sexual encounter where, while maybe not explicitly stated, MUTUAL pleasure is not the goal.

  3. Pingback: Falsely Accused » Start by believing… in the presumption of innocence.

  4. ksf

    Roger,

    You are repackaging Ben Stein’s argument to fit your agenda. The theme that I gathered from his piece was the notion that in every other crime, the accused is innocent until proven guilty, EXCEPT when a man is accused of a sex crime, hence the title “Presumed Innocent, Anyone?” Ben infers that when the case involves sexual assault, whatever the complainant says is true making her a victim, which he shows by quoting Diane Sawyer.

    The issues that he raises go to show the other side of the coin. These are questions that probably will be raised and expected to be answered at trial. Ben Stein says at least twice that the Accused might be and “likely is” guilty. But, what Ben Stein is railing against in his piece is the notion that the burden of proof shifts to Accused in sexual assault cases, and he, like many men who haven’t sold out to the sexual grievance industry, thinks that the accused should be considered innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Unfortunately, there is a movement in this country that appears to want to insert a Constitutional amendment for the right to a fair trial to the victim. If Congress extends this right by amending the Constitution, then so be it. But, the right to a fair trial has always extended to the accused, and the purpose is that so innocent persons are not imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.

    I find it far worse to imprison an innocent man, then to allow a hundred guilty men go free. I think you would find that an imprisoned innocent man would simply be collateral damage.

    I see that your boss is hiring 8 more Special Victim Prosecutors. So, what is that? 23, now? How many Special Crime defense attorneys are there to defend Soldiers? None? Sounds like there is going to be a lot of collateral damage in the future for military sexual assault cases.

  5. K Fischer

    JB,

    But as expected, Mr. Canaff’s support of the accuser in the case is not.

    So, Roger, when should DA Vance expect a letter from you lambasting him after he drops the case?

    And again I ask, when do you stop believing?

    ksf

  6. Roger Canaff Post author

    No complaints regarding DA Vance’s actions here, Mr. Fischer. It is what it is. To answer your second question, I stop believing when I have compelling reason to do so. If/when that happens in this case or any other (to the extent I have enough facts to judge accurately) I’ll certainly admit as much. As always, thanks for stopping by.

  7. ksf

    Okay, so when do you have a compelling reason to stop believing, Roger? Could you provide an example of a case where you stopped believing a lying accuser?

    Because it appears that you have not stopped believing the accuser in the DSK case,(“I have said, and still maintain, that there is no compelling reason to disbelieve what the victim has asserted (at its core) and still asserts”), despite:

    1. The phone call where the ‘victim’ admits that DSK has a lot of money and she knows what she is doing. (You excused this damning evidence as something could have gotten lost in translation, as opposed to extortion);

    2. She memorized a cassette tape someone else gave her depicting a gang rape in order to make an application for asylum more attractive, i.e. a previous false rape allegation, so she could get what she wanted; (You excused this damning evidence by stating that other people have done far worse to gain asylum);

    3. The fact that she was prostituting herself in the quarters provided to her by the DA after the alleged rape. (You did not address this troubling fact)

    4. She cleaned another room after the alleged rape, but before made her allegation. (You excused this troubling evidence as counterintuitive victim behavior).

    It sounds like a housekeeper at a luxury hotel who prostitutes herself to rich men on the side, propositioned DSK who became her john when they consummmated the business transaction. Then, as she was cleaning her next room, she thought about how rich her client was and how gullible the Americans are, so she made a false allegation because “he has a lot of money” and “she knows what she is doing” as she fabricated a rape allegation before in an attempt to get what she wants. Then, the idiot Americans put her up in an apartment where she continues to prostitute herself because she lacks reason and accountability.

    Yet, there you are…..like Steve Perry……holdin’ on to that feeling……despite innocent men being imprisoned…….but, no matter how bad the victim appears to be lying, don’t stop believing, Roger.

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