The NY Post article began by stating, quite authoritatively, “She had dollar signs in her eyes.” It went on to detail how the victim in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexual assault case learned from her “crew” that Strauss-Kahn would earn her easy money. She often, according to the article, traded sex for money while parading as a maid at the posh Manhattan hotel. She was smooth and cunning—this widowed mother from a peaceful but colorful village in Guinea, West Africa. This makes sense. This is what poor, uneducated, Black immigrant women do, you know—pretend to clean toilets and soiled sheets while they fill their pockets with loot from sexing very rich, very powerful Frenchmen with well documented past indiscretions involving the opposite sex. I don’t know what to write, except that I am furious. There has been a sort of quietness that has possessed my weekend. I have sat someplace between being shocked and disgusted by this victim blaming, to being ambivalent in recognizing the status quo, to really, really wondering when things will change for women. All these feelings spawned from articles such as the one mentioned above accusing the victim in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case of being a prostitute among other wretched things. It appears women (particularly women of color—especially Black, poor immigrant women) are never, ever allowed to be victims. We are to be taken at will, or by force, with no need for consent. These accusations are an unfortunate and tragic turn of events in a case that I have been following since the first reports surfaced.
The victim’s “willing participation” in sex acts with Strauss-Kahn explains the bruises found in her groin area afterward, as well as Strauss-Kahn’s abrupt departure from the hotel following the incident. I understand that this is typical protocol, placing the victim on trial, spending a great deal of resources to uncover an (often non-existent seedy) past, moving us to believe that all of the oft faux findings somehow impair a woman’s right to say no. It all still makes me very nauseous and tired. Shelby Knox, feminist organizer, writer and speaker summed it up quite magnificently when she tweeted over the weekend, “We should all be ashamed of a world in which the price of pressing charges against your rapist is public shame, blame & humiliation.” The Guardian reports, regarding Strauss-Kahn, “Other women with much more social power have accused DSK of being a sexual predator, of abusing his position as one of the most powerful men in the financial world and of attempted rape.” The article goes on to question, “So this is what victims of rape face: a criminal justice system where prejudice and politics may shape the investigation and any trial–and even determine the outcome?” The answer, in one unfortunate word is, yes.
This woman, who has traveled from her small Guinean town to the city of lights and grandeur with hopes of starting a new life, has gone from being a simple quiet woman, a maid who spoke against her assailant, to a prostitute who is involved in drug dealing and who may now face deportation as she is also being accused of lying on her immigration application. As much as I ache for her and her struggle, for what she may face for standing up for herself, my heart is heavy for those women who come behind her. The lesson that we are being taught is that we do not own ourselves; that men like Strauss-Kahn can claim access to us whenever they feel the sick urge. There is something in my bloodline, in my ancestry that identifies with the hopelessness that these circumstances bring to light. I am reminded of a time when my mothers too were made to suffer for saying no. I thought that we had gained ground. I am sad that we have not gained enough. I wonder, as Leo Tolstoy did while writing to Russian liberals concerning the social conditions there, “What is to be done?” I hope you have an answer because I am fresh out.