Yesterday I wrote about the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the IMF chief who was recently arrested for the sexual assault of a hotel maid. In my post, I wrote about the “conspiracy theories” that were already mounting against the credibility of the victim. As in so many rape and sexual assault cases, rape myths abound, like the idea that the victim “asked for it,” or that rape isn’t rape unless violent force is involved, and this particular case is no exception. While the verbal assaults and attempts to discredit Strauss-Kahn’s victim had only begun when I posted the blog, not a few hours later did I come across an infuriating commentary in The American Spectator by Ben Stein. Stein’s post is laden with the very same rape myths and misogynistic assumptions that I warned about. Stein lists eight “thoughts” concerning the Strauss-Kahn case, all of which defend him or blame/question the victim. I respond to some of the most shameful and insidious “thoughts” here:
In life, events tend to follow patterns. People who commit crimes tend to be criminals, for example. Can anyone tell me any economists who have been convicted of violent sex crimes? Can anyone tell me of any heads of nonprofit international economic entities who have ever been charged and convicted of violent sexual crimes? Is it likely that just by chance this hotel maid found the only one in this category? Maybe Mr. Strauss-Kahn is guilty but if so, he is one of a kind, and criminals are not usually one of a kind.
Stein’s argument is clearly laced with classist and racist assumptions about who in society is capable of committing sexual violence. He assumes that people with prestigious occupations can’t possibly be sexual predators. In this way, Stein openly uses classist assumptions to protect and defend Strauss-Kahn, a privilege not accorded to individuals of lower class statuses. It is likely that these same protections will aid Strauss-Kahn in the court room, if he ever gets there. If people fail to understand that misogyny transcends class and race and that someone’s occupation is not a valid predictor of capability to commit sexual violence, then Strauss-Kahn and other sexual predators in similar upper sectors of society will walk away unaccountable.
Yesterday I also argued that perhaps one of the reasons that Strauss-Kahn was actually arrested and held accountable thus far was because his victim is considered the “right” type of victim. She claimed that Strauss-Kahn used force to sexually assault her (which also means she resisted) and she reported the crime right away. Victims who do not follow this pattern—who were too traumatized to resist or incapacitated by drugs and alcohol to the point where physical force wasn’t needed and/or who were too terrified and ashamed to report the crime—face severe skepticism and doubt. But according to Stein, the criteria for use of force just got stricter—now for a rape/sexual assault victim to be considered a real victim, a weapon must have been used:
The prosecutors say that Mr. Strauss-Kahn “forced” the complainant to have oral and other sex with him. How? Did he have a gun? Did he have a knife? He’s a short fat old man. They were in a hotel with people passing by the room constantly, if it’s anything like the many hotels I am in. How did he intimidate her in that situation?
In the same paragraph, Stein also proves that victims of sexual violence are damned if they do and damned if they don’t when he argues that her brave decision to report the incident immediately indicates a contradiction in her story: “And if he was so intimidating, why did she immediately feel un-intimidated enough to alert the authorities as to her story?”
This is where I believe Stein is perhaps most offensive. His comment is a slap in the face to the thousands of violence against women advocates who, over the span of decades, have urged victims to come forward, not the least to ensure evidence against their attacker is preserved. The right thing to do is praise the victim for making such a brave decision to report and seek justice for her attack, not question her believability.
In my original post, I also predicted that the victim’s character will be torn apart, as it is often the case that it is the sexual assault victim put on the trial rather than the assailant. True to my warning, Stein does just this when he says:
People accuse other people of crimes all of the time. What do we know about the complainant besides that she is a hotel maid? I love and admire hotel maids. They have incredibly hard jobs and they do them uncomplainingly. I am sure she is a fine woman. On the other hand, I have had hotel maids that were complete lunatics, stealing airline tickets from me, stealing money from me, throwing away important papers, stealing medications from me. How do we know that this woman’s word was good enough to put Mr. Strauss-Kahn straight into a horrific jail?
Funny that only a few paragraphs later Stein concedes that he doesn’t know Strauss-Kahn personally nor has he ever “laid eyes on him.” I find it curious that Stein went to great lengths to defend a person he doesn’t even know while simultaneously degrading a victim and making nefarious assumptions about her character and credibility who he also doesn’t know. The unspoken reasons for his differential treatment of the perpetrator and the victim, again, are undoubtedly informed by racial, classed, and gendered assumptions. As previously noted, Stein uses Strauss-Kahn’s prestigious occupation to defend his innocence while the victim’s “lower” occupation is used to discredit her.
Ben Stein is not the first person to react to Strauss-Kahn’s arrest in a misogynistic, racist, and classist way and he will surely not be the last person to do so either. People who are concerned with ending the sexual violence crisis should be outraged by these insidious remarks, and make every effort to ensure these people are called out. Staying silent is the worst thing we can do, and victims will continue to suffer unless the conversation is changed.
Presumed Innocent, Anyone? – The American Spectator