Why the feeling of safety is elusive

Imagine a world in which a respected man in a position of world class responsibility turns himself into an attack macine:

From the associated press:

NEW YORK — The leader of the International Monetary Fund and a possible candidate for president of France was pulled from an airplane moments before he was to fly to Paris and was being questioned Saturday by police in connection with the violent sexual assault of a hotel maid, police said….

The 32-year-old woman told authorities that she entered Strauss-Kahn’s suite at the luxury Sofitel hotel not far from Manhattan’s Times Square at about 1 p.m. Eastern time (1600 GMT) Saturday and he attacked her, Browne said. She said she had been told to clean the spacious $3000-a-night-suite suite, which she had been told was empty.

According to an account the woman provided to police, Strauss-Kahn emerged from the bathroom naked, chased her down a hallway and pulled her into a bedroom, where he began to sexually assault her. She said she fought him off, then he dragged her into the bathroom, where he forced her to perform oral sex on him and tried to remove her underwear. The woman was able to break free again and escaped the room and told hotel staff what had happened, authorities said. They called police.

The case may be easily imagined, but that does not mean it is true. We haven’t heard his side at all.
Thanks, M.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

45 thoughts on “Why the feeling of safety is elusive

  1. It’s incredible when you stop to think of the class of person who has responsibility for the world financial system and is a leading candidate for the French presidency. He’s 62 and by that age, you’d expect anyone of normal intelligence to have learned that a woman is a person,
    not a sex object created for the fulfillment of male sex fantasies.

    And he tried to get away, in first class!!!! Cynical old bastard.

    Maybe Obama and Cameron, if they are so concerned about the abuse of power, should bomb the IMF instead of Gaddafi.

  2. Something tells me that in order to get any real justice for this creep, somebody will have to blindfold the judge and tell him Strauss-Khan is poor, ethnic, and chubby :-P

  3. We don’t yet know that he *is* guilty. It’s possible that this happened. It’s also possible that this is part of a smear campaign to discredit a political opponent. There are other possibilities too.

    Whilst it’s important to hold our leaders to account, I’m uncomfortable with the assumption of guilt here.

  4. Good point, Monkey. I’ll make that explicit.
    I don’t find the smear hypothesis all that likely, but perhaps that is my failure.
    We don’t know , do we, if she has identified him?

  5. I agree with Monkey. While it would not surprise me in the least to learn that Strauss-Kahn is guilty, the first thing I thought of when I read this was the rape charges made against Julian Assange.

  6. Eng, aren’t there some problems with the comparison? E.g., the rape claims haven’t been disproved, have they?

  7. I’m really pleasantly surprised that he was arrested. Guess I must be more cynical than I’d thought.

  8. Jender, I was very surprised the hotel phoned the police. A maid vs a world class figure in a $3000 a night suite? Apparently she is in hospital with minor injuries, but one suspects they were enough that she couldn’t be ignored.

  9. *sulking* Ok, Monkey. You’re correct, fair and brilliant as ever. Rich white doodz are people too.

    If the woman’s injuries are bad enough to warrant hospitalization, I wouldn’t exactly put her in the same category as Paula Corbin Jones. The evidence suggests that she was actually assaulted by someone. Whether or not it was the rich white dood in question still remains to be determined.

  10. When you think of all the lushly funded, highly paid IMF conferences on Women and Empowerment in a Global Economy, Strauss Kahn must have chaired……..

  11. I just hope that there is irrefutable solid physical evidence. The poor woman is going to be crucified by his high priced attorneys – she is the one that will be investigated and she is the one that will be on trial if it comes to trial. It appears, however, from what little I have seen, that he has a bit of a “reputation”….

  12. j, great point; you are right. She may well be a case study in why women do not report rapes. It could be quite awful.

    I gather from the news reports that she has picked him out in a line up. Could it be that her words counts for something? But then the lawyers haven’t gotten started.

    There are also tapes and such surfacing about him. These are supposed to be from other cases of his assaulting. Without wanting to judge about the truth here, IF he did what is alleged, it is unlikely that it was a singular event.

  13. There’s a convoluted bit from the NY Times this evening that is a quite chilling record of a series of reactions. That is, the idea that someone is a predator is naturally covered up and not spoken of. A report may surface, but the woman involved does not want her life to be branded by taking action against him.

    Here again we need to separate what we know about the alleged rapist, which is very little indeed, from the still remarkable facts about how people think and act over time.

    Despite the rumors, one of the few journalists to point to them when Mr. Strauss-Kahn was appointed to the fund was Jean Quatremer, the Brussels correspondent for Libération. He wrote on his blog that Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s “only real problem” was his “rapport” with women. “Too insistent, he often comes close to harassment,” he wrote. “A weakness known by the media, but which nobody mentions. (We are in France.) The I.M.F., however, is an international institution with Anglo-Saxon morals. A misplaced gesture, a too specific allusion, and it will be a media scramble.”

    Mr. Strauss-Kahn behaved aggressively toward a young female journalist and novelist, Tristane Banon, in 2002, according to the newspaper Le Parisien and other Web sites, and corroborated by Ms. Banon herself in a 2007 television interview on Paris Première, a cable channel. At the time, she said that a French politician — whom she later said was Mr. Strauss-Kahn — had tried to rape her in an empty apartment in Paris after she had contacted him for a book she was writing.

  14. I did not see the original post, but if all the edit did was to add the sentence in bold, there was no assumption of guilt. All the quote includes is a description of her account, labelled clearly as such – an account – and what the police have said about picking him up. The comment at the top almost goes out of its way to avoid making any presumptions about guilt: “Imagine a world in which…”

    The assumption that women reporting sexual offences are lying is, however, endemic in our societies, especially when the difference in status between her and the (alleged!) attacker is a great as it is here. It took until 1994 to overturn the *requirement* that judges warn the jury that the evidence of alleged victims of sexual offences was unreliable because they were ‘suspect witnesses’ (the only other people in this category were alleged accomplices and young children). (The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994).

    IMO, the role of feminist commentary in these cases is to critique this pervasive disbelief, to consider the possibility that the emotional, social and financial costs of reporting sexual assault are so high (www.rapecrisisscotland.org.uk/workspace/publications/Evidencing-Sexual-Assault-Burman.pdf) that false reports are rare (http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2010/09/09/false-rape-allegations-are-rare/). Not to declare guilt, but to publicise the idea that most prevalent balance of power in such cases means that she’s probably telling the truth (not definitely! That’s supposedly what the criminal justice system is for).

    Or if not that, to break away from mainstream media by merely considering the possibility that she’s not lying.

    Or if not even that, simply to publish the news without comment.

    But I am feeling nauseous to think that on a *feminist* blog, this post was edited, not for typos, but to remind the reader (in bold, no less!) that the poor woman might be lying, and the rich man might be good, just like the kyriarchy says.

  15. Edit for UK & US-centrism: the The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 was in the UK, I have no idea about similar legislation in other countries but I would very surprised if there weren’t any similar practices. The Yes Means Yes article is based on a study of US police forces; I’m aware of similar UK statistics, but I imagine some other countries have the same situation.

  16. I agree with evie. I think the post would be much better without the doubting of women’s testimony. There is, after all, a good deal of feminist work that deals with testimonial injustice and how women’s own testimonies about our lives are often doubted (both in rape cases, and more generally). Sue Campbell’s Relational Remembering is good on that point, so is Miranda Fricker and others. I felt very let down by the bold-face assertion that she might be lying. If we don’t want to suggest his guilt (which the original post does not presume), then why is it ok to suggest her untruthfulness (which the amended post now explicitly does).

  17. I’m surprised by evie and Bakka’s reaction. I tend to disagree, but I’m not so sure what the truth of the matter is. So let me just say why I’m inclined to disagree.
    First of all, I think the post does imply he did it, though it may be an informal, pragmatic implication. Her words are offered as a reason for feeling unsafe, and I actually meant the connection to be that her words show that even in the most unlikely situations and with very unlikely people one can still be victimized in this horrible way. The mere fact that the NY Times had this bizarre story does not make one feel unsafe; rather, the fact that it happened makes one feel unsafe. Or so I’m thinking.

    Secondly, I don’t get see why our choices are that either she is telling the truth or she is lying. Could he be being set up in some other way? Sure, just get someone who looks like him to hang out in the apartment. In fact, couldn’t it be that some one he knows stayed for a while and this second person decided to take advantage of chambermaid? That’s a bit fantastic, but then so is the whole thing.

    She is said to have identified him in a line-up, but, supposing there really was a line-up, there are notorious ways to get witnesses to say what you want. The police now have a major motive for making the case very strong.

    Finally, it is just so standard to say that we can’t presume he is guilty on the basis of a newspaper report, I think that were I in her shoes I would not feel insulted at all by what I said. It is just the standard thing, like the use of “alleged,” which reminds us that all we have are others’ words.

  18. Whilst the general trend towards doubting women’s testimony is terrible and somehow needs to be combatted, I don’t think the way to combat it is for the likes of us – bloggers and commenters – to presume guilt on the basis of newspaper articles. Taking women’s testimony seriously has somehow go to be balanced with the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. This blog isn’t a court of law with access to all the relevant evidence. I think we (bloggers and commenters) should bear that in mind when reporting and commenting on stories like this one. Moreover, JJ’s addition in bold doesn’t suggest that the woman might be lying. There are many other possibilities that are consistent with her telling the truth, and the accused being innocent – e.g., she might have misidentified him in the line-up. But to reiterate, the point is *not* that this is likely. The point is that we’re in no position to judge.

  19. I accept your point that the title does informally imply that you (and the reader) believe that he attacked her. I’d like to make several other points, though – sorry for such a long comment!

    Your second point: yes, I agree that myths about lying women are just one way in which kyriarchy works in favour of this man. There are also a whole lot of myths about how being male, rich, white, straight, cis, and in a position of power makes you upstanding and beyond suspicion, especially with rape and attempted rape (cos it’s only psychopaths who commit them, right? Not 6% of men asked without using the word rape? Lisak & Miller 2002 http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2010/03/25/predator-theory/). So saying that it’s not simply about her truthfulness doesn’t make it any more defensible.

    In fact, there are serious problems with suggesting that this case (if he is guilty) causes a marked drop in a sense of safety, since it shows that “even in the most unlikely situations and with very unlikely people one can still be victimized.” I have never worked as a maid in a hotel, but I do know that working as a woman at the bottom of the food chain, indoors, in a place where being alone and secluded is the norm, is a very unsafe place to be. I also know that since rape is about power and control (not lust) it is common for rapists to work where they have power over other people. To assume the opposite, that such powerful men are “very unlikely” to commit sexual offences, is to buy into that whole system of myths about privileged people being more moral.

    (Side note: phrasing sexual violence in the passive, e.g. ‘be victimized’ ‘got raped’, is an excellent and common way that the mainstream media invisibilises the agency of violent men and alters readers’ perceptions of blame and harm: http://hoydenabouttown.com//?p=497 Best to avoid.)

    My point wasn’t about the likelihood of guilt in this case, but about how the whole of the mainstream media is repeatedly asserting his likely innocence, and that it’s feminism’s job to interrogate that. Most articles on this story quote legions of people insisting his innocence, even his political opponents (e.g. http://www.wfaa.com/home/NY-police-question-IMF-head-in-hotel-sex-assault-121841599.html). The one you seem to be quoting from reminds the reader throughout of his privilege (e.g. that it was a “$3000-a-night-suite suite), and respectability (“married father of four”).

    (Site note: the article also says that he left his mobile behind, seeming to have left in a hurry, so it seems a little conspiracy-theory-y to suggest a set up.)

    If you read stories about gendered violence with a feminist eye, you notice very quickly how much more presumed innocence is proclaimed than in reports of other crimes. The word alleged is used much more often than in other crimes, scare quotes are used around the word rape, and characteristics which play into stereotypes of untrustworthy women and trustworthy men are reported even when they have no bearing on the case. Similarly, the very few cases where it is actually demonstrated that the woman lied get prioritised out of all proportion to the stories about convictions of rapists.

    So far, so feminism 101. To argue that it is “just so standard” to remind readers of the presumption of innocence in criminal cases without reference to this massive media bias normalises that bias, and is not what I would expect from a feminist blog.

    I was not arguing that she would feel insulted by the edit; this is not about offence. I was arguing that the edit upholds a system of injustice in which poor women are institutionally discredited and rich men institutionally respected.

  20. @ Monkey, sorry to ignore you.

    I’m not arguing that we should presume guilt. I’m arguing that the media disproportionately insists on the innocence of men accused of sexual violence, and that feminism’s role is to question that pattern, not replicate it.

  21. jj, if the issue is safety, and he was set up as has been suggested (someone posed as him to smear his potential campaign), then this would still give women reason to feel unsafe. It would then be a case in which a woman was assaulted as a political ploy. It would be using women’s bodies to advance the political career of someone else (not the maid).

    If the situation were that someone he knew (in his entourage) stayed behind and assaulted the maid, then this would still be a reason to feel unsafe.

    I don’t believe we need to presume his guilt in order to feel unsafe. We only have to presume that what she said happened did happen. The only reason we would have not to feel unsafe is if we presume she made the whole thing up, and was not actually sexually assaulted.

  22. I’ll be very interested to see how this story unfolds. I’ve met DSK on a couple of occasions (not that I have any insight into his character). Unless the allegations are unqualifiedly retracted or iron-clad exculpatory evidence surfaces very soon, you can stick a fork in DSK’s career.

    Anyhow, I agree with jj. I think it rarely if ever goes amiss to acknowledge openly, in some way or another, when writing about a pending criminal case of any kind, that the defendant may not be guilty as charged. Among other things, if everyone did that, you’d reduce the risk of tainted (or supposedly tainted) jury pools that can pose an obstacle to successful convictions.

    I seem to recall reading an article at some point about a study suggesting that media coverage of allegations of stranger rape generally tends to be anti-defendant, while the opposite tendency is observed for allegations of acquaintance rape. Can’t remember the details. Anyone come across it, or something similar?

  23. evie, you are reading in much more than I said. There is a bottom line here: I implied he was guilty and I had to cancel that implication.

    I do not see the media bias in this case. Obviously, I took the times to imply he did it.

    I am glad you are giving us feminism 101, but your interpretations that suggest it is warranted are mistaken. The man’s life is in ruins; I am very glad she got the needed support, but the incident hardly strikes me as likely.

  24. Bakka, in the context of this story, I implied he did it. I perhaps could have added something about “of course, perhaps it was someone else” but as I did it, I offered her story without any qualifications on how it would count as a reason.

  25. I must not be understanding the issue about the edit. Plainly the new version does not assume that the maid is lying! It just cancels the implicature that the defendant is guilty. Good work, I say.

    Also, though I don’t doubt news reports often use passive voice in describing sexual violence, I’d just like to point out that the AP story does not. It does say that Strauss-Kahn “was pulled” from a plane, but it would be very odd to suggest that the syntax serves to obscure the agency of the police in the pulling (and in general I think commentators do tend to confuse the passive voice with the masking of agency — they are very different!). Similarly for what the article says “she had been told” (passive, but presumably not masking any interesting agency).

    The article uses active voice for what Strauss-Kahn is accused of doing. “He emerged”… “chased her”… “attacked her”… “dragged her”… “began to assault her…”, and more.

    This particular story doesn’t look biased in its assumptions, in other words, or in its grammatical structure.

  26. Evie, you mention that in stories/reports (I’m assuming you mean media stories/reports here) of sexual violence, word alleged is used much more often than in other crimes. I was wondering what support can be adduced to that effect. I did not have the impression that the word alleged is much more likely to be used in a news story about rape than in one about, say, fraud, embezzlement, criminal conspiracy, etc.

    On another subject, perhaps we should avoid referring to anything as testimony at this stage, since testimony is given under oath.

  27. By the way, check out this virtual reenactment of the alleged sexual attack. I have no idea how closely this corresponds to the allegations, much less the facts, but it is pretty shocking even in 3D cartoon form.

    Anyone speak Mandarin?

  28. Yikes, I thought I was just posting a link to that video but now it looks like it’s embedded. Apologies if that’s a no-no; it was unintentional.

  29. I’m totally creeped out that the bold disclaimer was added. We are consumers of news stories and perfectly entitled to form reasonable beliefs in light of those stories. It’s incredibly unlikely he’s innocent.
    The assumption of innocence until proven guilty is important in the criminal justice system, but it’s a gross confusion to think that anyone who has read the news on this so far is not entitled to believe he’s guilty.

  30. If by ‘entitled’ you mean ‘has adequate justification for the belief’, I’m not sure that’s true. It’s hardly the case that the newspapers have accurately reported all available evidence.

    If by ‘entitled’ you mean ‘free to believe what they want on that basis’ then, of course. We’re all free to believe what we want about anything.

    But there’s a big difference between forming a belief and talking about it to others, on the one hand, and publicly publishing articles denouncing someone, on the other. Whilst blogs are an informal medium, I don’t think that means bloggers can say whatever they want about anything. We should report responsibly. Not assuming guilt when publishing on cases like this is part of responsible reporting.

  31. What we believe is to a great extent a function of how it is reported. Decisions about guilt or innocence ought to involve more thought and reflection.

    If would be interesting to know how many people sure of his guilt would be willing to take responsibility for locking him away right now for 25 years. I myself stop at implying he is guilty on a public blog, but to be acccurate, I hadn’t at first faced the question that Monkey originally raised.

  32. Here’s my unsolicited opinion with a big bold disclaimer.


    Oh, and I’m flat broke and living in a homeless shelter, so if you want to try to sue me for libel, get in line behind everybody else who’s pipe dreaming about how I might be able to pay them before I die of old age :-P Check my URL and cross reference it against my student loan and tax history if you don’t believe me.

    Every comment I make on this site has always been made in 100% sincerity, even if that only means I sincerely believe somebody’s an asshat and he needs to be told about it.

    The woman was dragged down a hallway and forced into a bathroom by a horny creep. She struggled hard and still only barely managed to escape. She had to be HOSPITALIZED, however briefly, for her injuries. She identified him in a lineup, and some of the other things, like the cell phone, that the other disgruntled feminists on this site mentioned are just too hard to fake. For now, unless something shocking comes up to prove otherwise, I believe he’s a creep.

    I’ve fought back against worse assaults and not pressed charges, but never in a situation where my livelihood was at stake. It’s really awful that the poor woman had to run away without leaving a bruise on him for what he did.

    25 years is a little harsh. 2-3 years in population with the usual chance at parole, pending participation in classes in feminism 101, and a hefty compensation package for the lady, including at least $250 000 and a formal public apology.

    The REAL punishment will be his wife’s decision.

  33. Xena, I understand 25 years is standard for what he’s said to have done – it’s at the upper end, but sentencing for physical assault, injury, etc, is getting set high.

    I’m a big puzzled about what is being decided by those who say he really did do it. I don’t think it should be some abstract decision where we don’t take account of the fuller context in which the facts we are sure of fit.

    Sometimes when we realize how dire the consequences are, we do see that we need more evidence. When the consequence is that the man will be put away for the rest of his life, in effect, then it seems to me that we need more than is in the newspapers so far, just because we do not know how constructed the stories are.

  34. jj, that’s the maximum sentence, isn’t it? If this is his first conviction

    (IF the courts do convict him–that bit of shocking, innocence proving evidence may still happen)

    the courts are likely to give him a much lighter sentence than 25 years. What I recommended above–more for the sake of teaching than punishing–might not even happen IF he’s found guilty. High profile cases usually end up in the nice-nice Karla Homolka-ish Protective Custody cells with the special curtains and all the rest. (they were way to easy on Karla, imo. But she has not re-offended, and that’s the whole point of a prison sentence, not to appease the anger of some random blogger.)

    I think that if Strauss-Khan is found guilty, 2-3 years in population, NOT PC, would teach him something about why it’s SO shitty to abuse his privilege by going around attacking the people who work for him. Prisons have a very different balance of power.

    Now would be a good time for a discussion about K. MacKinnon’s sexual harrassment legislation. I’m not a fan of the radfem stance on porn and sex work, but MacKinnon’s work on workplace sexual harrassment was brilliant, and desperately needed.

  35. Actually, prison might well reinforce DSK’s current worldview that might makes right, that the powerful can get away with, if not murder, rape, although in prison DSK would be among the losers, not the winners.

    Better a few years of community service helping victims of child abuse. Perhaps it would do DSK good to spend a while among people who generally are concerned about others and who work to help them.

    Oh yes, let his fortune go to a foundation to help rape victims after he guarantees to pay the education until the doctoral level of his victim’s child in any university, even the most expensive.

  36. Ugh! Ugh! Ugh! The NY Times says DSK and his lawyers are considering claiming the sex was consensual. This whole thing may go way past disgusting and onto completely tragic for the woman involved.

  37. I don’t usually read Maureen Dowd, especially since the NYT began charging non-subscriptors for reading over a certain limit of articles, but this morning I read her column and she seems sure that DSK is guilty.

    Now, Dowd is not especially radical, unlikely to go out on a limb, and she surely has access to sources of information that do not appear in the press, which leads me to think that DSK is guilty and that the police have evidence to prove it.

  38. UGH! is right! What hotel employee sneaks around in the middle of her shift looking for the kind of sex that will leave her injured badly enough to be hospitalized?!?

    Most hardcore subs don’t even take their kink that far! Forget about doing these things at work!

    Now I KNOW he’s guilty! Of all the LIES he could have told to try to weasel his way out of the charges (and I can think of one or two that might have worked–but I WILL NOT help this creep by discussing them!) that is the stupidest excuse his lawyers could have concocted!


    Even if he somehow manages to beat the charges and buy the woman’s silence, his party is finished. It’s bad enough a leader of a “people’s party” stays in a $3000 a night hotel. His former supporters will be comparing him to that psychotic little perv of a North Korean dictator for the rest of his life.

    *And that is my unsolicited opinion, influenced in no way by the administrators at feministphilosophers.

  39. There is a huge worry about how a jury will react to a case where a powerful male claims concsent.

    Xena, not to defend him, but the man actually paid $800 for the suite of rooms he had. It’s easy to pay $300-400 in NYC for a small single room, so he did not do badly.

  40. Ok jj, I’ll give him that. I saw a headline this morning that said he resigned. Unfortunately, my yahoo page replaced it sometime today with some awful victim-smearing headline and something about Arnold. I’ll be back after I google for a somewhat reputable source to confirm that he’s actually resigned.

    If he did, that’s the best thing he could have done for his party’s reputation.

  41. I wonder if the US government might not decide just to deport DSK if he’s convicted in state court (even though they usually they let a felon noncitizen serve the time first). Actually, now that DSK has resigned from the IMF, his immigration status is questionable; he could be deported now if the US decided it was worthwhile to let France save some face. The state of New York might whinge a bit, but couldn’t do much about it.

    Maybe the US could trade him to France for, say, Roman Polanski and two unextradited fugitives to be named later.

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