DSK and the “only good girls get justice” narrative

Things are changing fast, but it appears that the sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn is collapsing due to the unreliability of his accuser.

We don’t know what we don’t know. But what we do know is that women who lie on asylum applications can still be rape victims. Women who have shady drug-dealer boyfriends can still be rape victims. Women who themselves deal drugs, or who work in as prostitutes, or who commit fraud can still be rape victims. Yes, in a court setting, a pattern of dishonesty on the part of the accuser will undercut a prosecution’s case. But we need to push back against the developing narrative that only a “perfect victim” (virginal, middle-class, impeccably honest) deserves the protection of the legal system.

Women shouldn’t have to be flawless — or even all that “good” — to get justice.

UPDATE: I’ve been waiting for Jill Filipovic (an attorney in New York City as well as a feminist blogger) to weigh in. And she doesn’t disappoint. See There Are No Perfect Accusers.

UPDATE #2: Waking up this morning to more than two dozen comments in moderation on this thread, almost all from Men’s Rights Activists in gleeful, vengeful tizzies, I’m closing this thread altogether.

Let’s let the rest of the story come out.

19 thoughts on “DSK and the “only good girls get justice” narrative

  1. The “only good girls get justice” narrative also strikes me as being closely related to the equally aggravating “well if you hadn’t done/been wearing X, he wouldn’t have done Y”.

    If only the woman hadn’t ‘been bad’, this wouldn’t have happened.

  2. Not only that, what if she HAD to be dishonest to get her job and her home in the first place? What if the drug-dealer boyfriend was the only one in her social circle with the wherewithal to give her the leg up she got?
    In many Third-World countries, you need a lot of extra money to do business, just for paying bribes and keeping hostile government officials off your back. This is another thing the rule of law and a more socioeconomically equal society is supposed to safeguard us against… the massive inefficiency of corruption.

    This also begs the question of whether morals and privileges are yet another thing only those with sufficient means of money and time can afford… just like beauty, personal style, and personal development.

  3. I have to take heart that violence is getting taken more seriously all the time. We have come a long way from the 1980′s when I was date raped and beaten by a boyfriend only to be patted on the head (literally) by the police officer. I was advised to just stay away from him. It’s not fair that she is being penalized with things that have nothing to do with the rape. I hope that we continue to stand up for victims no matter what their life circumstances are.

  4. As far as criminal law goes, rape is unique for a very simple reason: the exact same physical act is either a lawful, and common, activity or a crime based on the existence or absence of consent. People do not generally consent to the physical acts (the actus reus, in criminal law) that comprise most other sorts of alleged criminal activity, but people engage in sexual activity all the time with near strangers. All of the physical evidence present normally will equally support either scenario: of a consensual sexual encounter or of a rape, and the only determinative element that will make it the latter is the absence of consent, which has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The only way you are going to be able to prove that in the typical he said-she said case is with the alleged victim’s testimony. If she’s not a credible witness, then there’s nothing left to support the claim that the sexual encounter was rape and not consensual.

    Personally, I’m of the opinion that there might be value in instituting some sort of non-criminal, and potentially non-legal, process for those alleged victims to “tell their story,” as that often seems to be the nub of the criticism the criminal justice system’s handling of rape. It would be very dangerous to deform the standards of the criminal justice system concerning the presumption of innocence or the standard of proof to “lower the bar” in rape cases, something that we can see all too clearly in cases going back to the Jonesboro Boys. The civil justice system remains available, however. Alternatively, if victims want to publicize their accusations, perhaps they should be given a forum to do so. I think that we’re still culturally tied up with the idea that rape victims are or should be subject to some sort of particular shame or need especial protection, e.g.: as represented in the media’s typical refusal to name accusers. That may be a legitimate and worthwhile goal, to protect what little privacy may remain to victims, but if the concern is in giving them a forum to tell their story and they’re willing to waive or not take advantage of those typical protections, then maybe they ought to be given the chance to do so.

    • “As far as criminal law goes, rape is unique for a very simple reason: the exact same physical act is either a lawful, and common, activity or a crime based on the existence or absence of consent.”
      That’s not unique at all. The same goes for theft*, trespass, burglary, kidnapping, assault…maybe you should spend five minutes studying criminal law before making sweeping statements about criminal law.

      “The only way you are going to be able to prove that in the typical he said-she said case is with the alleged victim’s testimony.”
      If a thief claims that they had permission from the owner to take the stolen item (which would negate the crime of theft), the prosecution is not any less dependent on the alleged victim’s testimony that consent was lacking than they would be in a rape case. Probably moreso, because forced sex often either leaves physical signs on the victims’s body or takes place under circumstances where consensual sex would be wildly implausible (do we really believe this hotel maid was suddenly struck by the urge to drop down and give this strange old man a blowjob? Really?)
      Yet even cases with this type of external evidence are routinely not prosecuted based on supposed concerns about the accuser’s credibility. Rape victims are consistently held to a higher standard of credibility than victims of other crimes, even other crimes where lack of consent forms an element of the crime.

      Criminal Law Comment

      “As far as criminal law goes, rape is unique for a very simple reason: the exact same physical act is either a lawful, and common, activity or a crime based on the existence or absence of consent.”
      That’s not unique at all. The same goes for theft*, trespass, burglary, kidnapping, assault…maybe you should spend five minutes studying criminal law before making sweeping statements about criminal law.

      “The only way you are going to be able to prove that in the typical he said-she said case is with the alleged victim’s testimony.”
      If a thief claims that they had permission from the owner to take the stolen item (which would negate the crime of theft), the prosecution is not any less dependent on the alleged victim’s testimony that consent was lacking than they would be in a rape case. Probably moreso, because forced sex often either leaves physical signs on the victims’s body or takes place under circumstances where consensual sex would be wildly implausible (do we really believe this hotel maid was suddenly struck by the urge to drop down and give this strange old man a blowjob? Really?)
      Yet even cases with this type of external evidence are routinely not prosecuted based on supposed concerns about the accuser’s credibility. Rape victims are consistently held to a higher standard of credibility than victims of other crimes, even other crimes where lack of consent forms an element of the crime.

      * For example, California law defines Vehicular Theft as follows: “(a) Any person who drives or takes a vehicle not his or her own, without the consent of the owner thereof, and with intent either to permanently or temporarily deprive the owner thereof of his or her title to or possession of the vehicle…is guilty of a public offense…”

  5. A look at typical Pittsburgh Steelers message boards during the Ben Roethlisberger debacle showed an avalanche of nasty victim-blaming, including comments about the victim’s physique (as if Ben were any prize himself in his offseason shape, if it were to matter,) blaming her for Ben’s off-duty police officer friend having to resign over some lewd comments about her (as if he were not responsible for his own actions,) and complaints that he was being “unfairly” treated due to less attention on other players committing similar actions (very few of whom were held up as saviors by their hometowns, and who were often roundly condemned by their cities’ fans.)

  6. Hugo:

    Thing is, as horrible as this is, people do not LIKE unsavory victims so it seems like it is sooo hard to even push back on this bs at all. Hell, I have said a zillion times that if I ever did get raped, I prolly would not even BOTHER to report it cause of my rather colorful personality and shady past and background. I honestly think that ALL the bullshit that would come with trying to get justice- which I prolly wouldn’t anyway-would simply NOT be worth it: Not worth the time, the trauma, the bullshit, the pain- all that stuff Non Perfect Victim Face whenever they try to have a little faith in the system. Which is sad as hell, unfair as hell, and depressing is hell. When the crap certain kind of women have to go through for justice can actually be as bad if not worse than rape itself? SOmethig very, very, very wrong there- and even more wrong is that the people who DO have the power to fix that seem to have no interest. Cops don’t care, the media wants to sell papers so screw the people they are destroying- the world loves scandal and being vultures and dirt- so yeah, how DOES this get fixed?

  7. It’s funny, I didn’t get the “only good girls get justice” narrative from this whole episode.

    I did, however, get a strong “white men with power are always guilty even without a trial” vibe, and it seems to be coming on strong even now.

  8. Hugo, once again the relative uniqueness of rape as a crime comes into play with this case. We have evidence of sexual activity which one side says was consensual and the other says was not. Without other evidence it becomes his word vs hers which barring history should be a not guilty due to lack of evidence. Bringing in history and credibility is the only way to judge this unless you want all non violent rapes to go unpunished. So having her past being shady and the prosecution bringing up her lies under oath makes it a little harder to see it as a non perfect victim rather than don’t lie when your testimony is all that can convict someone.

  9. They didn’t prove guilt or innocence. They want to establish doubt by means of show her past actions.

    I see two conveyed ideas…

    1. ‘We need to trust women regardless of past actions.’ and..
    2. ‘The morality of the legal defense was questionable’

    My issues is with what to make of these statements. Are we against all past actions being admissible as evidence and how does one decided what a legitimate defense is?

  10. Isn’t there a world of difference between demanding a “perfect/flawless victim” and pointing out that the alleged victim lied to the investigators about several points. Including fabricating details of a gang rape that never happened, and appearing distraught while recounting the story? Or about lying on numerous occasions about what she did immediately following the incident, but before reporting it?

    There are no other witnesses to the incident. Unless the forensic evidence is conclusive and not open to interpretation, then it comes down to behavior before and after the incident. If DSK leaving the hotel and going to the airport can be considered, then shouldn’t the alleged victim’s behavior also be up for consideration? Not because she needs to be flawless, but because the behavior of both sides is an indicator of credibility and whose version of events is to be accepted by a court.

    http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/07/01/nyregion/20110701-Strauss-Kahn-letter.html?ref=nyregion

  11. Hugo, can we just find out for posterity where you stand on this issue if it turns out that a man who could have been president of France did not rape the hotel maid? Considering that he was a liberal, that as head of the IMF he did a lot to reform the organization, and that as president he would have most likely supported a feminist agenda, would you actually feel bad if the rape claim turns out to be dubious? Or will you say that he deserved it since he has an unsavory past and shouldn’t have been sleeping with hotel maids? I’m just wondering.

    Considering that we have nothing but her testimony to back up her allegations, how do you feel about what she said to her boyfriend? Apparently it translates to, “Don’t worry, this guy has a lot of money. I know what I’m doing.” How could any sane person possibly consider her a credible witness after she lies to a grand jury, admits to lying under oath about getting raped, and then says stuff like that to her shady boyfriend?

  12. Twenty-eight hours after a housekeeper at the Sofitel New York said she was sexually assaulted by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, she spoke by phone to a boyfriend in an immigration jail in Arizona.

    When the conversation was translated — a job completed only this Wednesday — investigators were alarmed: “She says words to the effect of, ‘Don’t worry, this guy has a lot of money. I know what I’m doing,’ ” the official said.

    http://nyti.ms/mPxKRX

  13. Gather the DNA evidense, do the court trial, excoriate the rapist on the stand… he already is out of the job and Christine Leguard is the first woman to head IMF.. victory there. A man rapes a woman, she goes to the police, the rest of her life has nothing to do with the rape. End of story. A person breaks into a house and steals stuff… the owner of the house accidently left the door unlocked…no dice… if you break in and steal, you are a criminal end of story.

    Rape is not big deal… it is a crime… it should be brutally and I mean brutally punished so that the man will never walk again, and never be able to use a penis against a woman again. Got that.

  14. Oh SheilaG, you never disappoint.

    Every now and then I’m afraid you might actually see men as human beings, but then you are quick to allay my concerns.

    Thank you for your comment.

  15. Eye for an eye ,hand for a hand and penis for a penis…

    Personally, I don’t see the equality in crime-to-punishment with castration as the sentence. Though “some U.S. jurisdictions allow shorter sentences for sex criminals who agree to voluntary chemical castration.” That along with permanent loss of many rights seems reasonable to me.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_and_punishment

  16. We’re not asking for a perfect witness. All the prosecution needs is a witness who doesn’t have history of lying about rape for personal gain. Also, it be nice if wasn’t caught saying things like ‘Don’t worry, this guy has a lot of money. I know what I’m doing,’

  17. “Considering that he was a liberal, that as head of the IMF he did a lot to reform the organization, and that as president he would have most likely supported a feminist agenda, would you actually feel bad if the rape claim turns out to be dubious?”

    I honestly hadn’t followed the case closely enough to be aware of his political leanings (although the stereotype is that even conservatives of French origin are comparable to moderately left-leaning Americans on most issues.)

    But it is interesting to see the far right (American or internationally) exploit these sorts of cases for political gain when it benefits them. One of the best examples, and incidentally one also involving the French, is Roman Polanski; the infamous petition was circulated by the right as evidence that the entirety of Hollywood (a city that arguably represents the best of the free-market system that the right so loves, and generally consists of law-abiding citizens) was degenerate leftists.

    I looked at the petition and saw a multitude of French names, and only a few American names. (The petition is hardly indicative of French thought, either; ~70% of France wants Polanski extradited and tried for his sentence.)

    Ironic that the biggest peddlers of this petition were on Breitbart’s Bighollywood, a site that purports to help “Hollywood conservatives” and give them a voice, when the mere rhetoric of “boycott/bankrupt Hollywood” on sites like that one is as damaging to said conservatives as anything else. These people who decry “mere rhetoric” against bankers or the oil industry when they come from government figures like Obama do not say the same when anti-Hollywood rhetoric comes from Sarah Palin. If you dislike Hollywood, fine, but don’t base it on smears like the ideas that almost everyone in Hollywood supports Polanski or attacks/wants to attack Palin’s or Sean Parnell’s family.

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