The rhetoric around the criminal case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, IMF president and alleged rapist of a Sofitel hotel worker, has focused on that worker's "crumbing credibility." She has been described as someone who lied on her asylum application, was a victim of female genital mutilation (thank you NPR for this tidbit), has a boyfriend who is in an immigration jail in Arizona (excellent reporting, NYTimes) and may be living in an apartment rented exclusively to adults with HIV or AIDS (wow, NYPost, did you follow her home?).
Even if all of this were true, does it make her claims any less worthy of investigation? Does it make a prosecutor's decision not to prosecute okay? She lied about some things, which means that she probably lied about being sexually assaulted? Why is the prosecution doing the defense's work?
What about attacks on DSK's credibility? He apparently has a history of, let's call it euphemistically, "scandalous" behavior. In the press they've said he has a "history with women," he is a "frisky Frenchman" and a great man with a "tragic flaw." Which, in this case, makes him a sexual predator.
They should try DSK's victim's case in the court of law rather than in the court of public opinion. Let the jury evaluate her credibility along with any other evidence that can prove her case.
But it's not really just about that, is it? Legalities aside, this is society making a value judgment as to whether this woman is worthy of legal protection, civil rights, and human rights. Of being powerful enough to challenge Dominique Strauss Kahn's friskiness.
Eve Ensler said it beautifully in the Guardian:
How do you fight a rape case if you have lied in your past? How do you fight a rape case if you have been sexually active?. . . How do you fight a rape case if you still believe rape is your fault, if you don't even know what rape is, if you are afraid of upsetting your boyfriend/husband, or afraid of getting him in trouble because he will be more violent to you?
How do you fight a rape case when you don't fit into society's mold of an ideal woman?
The women we serve may not withstand such scrutiny -- they are often low-income women of color, often recent immigrants that may work the exact same job as this woman. They may have over-stayed their tourist visa, they may be undocumented, they may have had an arranged marriage that may actually have been a forced marriage. They may have a loved one also in a detention center. They may be HIV-positive. They may lie as part of what they need to do as they hustle to survive. When a system is stacked against you, when you encounter oppressions at every turn, sometimes you lie.
Unless you fit society's mold of an ideal woman -- preferably white, preferably middle-class and up, definitely heterosexual and with demonstrated virtue (you didn't drink alcohol, you didn't date around or sleep around, fight back or hurt back; wear a bikini, or tell a lie) -- then it appears that men can rape you, particularly if they hold more power and have more privilege. And you can do nothing, except take it.
We work with a woman who was repeatedly raped by her employer. She is low-income with limited English proficiency, and she has not pressed charges against him. She was arrested once, for shoplifting, because she brought in items to return to a store, and when the alarms sounded, security asked her if she took those items, and not understanding them, since she doesn't speak English, she simply replied "yes." And now she fears the police, and fears coming forward.
How are we to counsel her? Tell her to speak up and go to the authorities? We'll press charges and bring him to justice? If we're lucky, he may spend a few weeks or months in jail and then he'll be out, and she may still have been left by her husband, and her community and family may have turned their backs on her. She will likely be more unsafe, have no job, no access to support or service and no way to hope for a life of dignity and happiness. On the other hand, if she is unlucky, all the above WILL STILL BE TRUE, and he won't spend a single day in jail because she wasn't a credible enough witness, or a worthy enough woman for a prosecutor prove her case.
The woman we work with does not want to speak up against her employer, and I can not blame her, especially now.
The treatment of the DSK case will have a silencing effect, one that compounds the other silencing pressures already imposed on her by her culture and the stigma imposed by her community. This is a terrible position for her to be in, and a huge hypocrisy for me, as the executive director of an organization whose mission is to end violence against women.
At Sakhi, we approach anti-violence work through an anti-structural violence frame so we can fight to eliminate the root causes of violence -- the misogyny, racism, classism, xenophobia, sexism and other ways that women are deprived of their right to live. We want women not only to survive, but to LIVE lives with hope, dignity and fundamental human rights.