Many people whom I respect have taken exception to my earlier post about Dominique Strauss-Kahn, as if I were either excusing Strauss-Kahn’s conduct or making light of the victim’s complaint. I meant exactly the opposite.
What’s important to appreciate is that a victim who can be discredited as a witness and still have been raped, as I thought I was arguing in the post. The oldest game in the defense book, when it comes to a rape charge, is to impugn the victim’s past and use any blemishes to argue that therefore she couldn’t have been raped.
The fact that the housekeeper may (or may not) have had male friends who were allegedly involved in drug deals, as the Times reports, or that she may (or may not) have falsified her application for asylum, or even that she might have hoped to make money off this episode, has nothing whatever to do with this case. But it will make it harder for prosecutors to prove her complaint in court, because it makes it easier for the defense to impeach her credibility.
My colleague, Adam Serwer, objects to my ironic conjecture that Strauss-Kahn perhaps mistook the housekeeper for a prostitute whom his staff may have ordered. I wrote that this “would help explain —not excuse—his behavior," Adam adds, “but this sounds uncomfortably close to rationalizing.” No, it wasn’t rationalizing; that’s why I added the words “not excuse.”
My point was and is: If this is a man who regularly uses prostitutes, then he is capable of abusing women who cross his path—of treating women in general as potential objects of his sexual pleasure.
I totally agree with Adam’s points that: “The identity or occupation of the victim is no more evidence of Strauss-Khan's innocence or guilt than his own,” and that “Sex workers do not relinquish their right not to be sexually assaulted merely because they have sex for money.” Nothing that I wrote suggests otherwise. I was lamenting the fact that if charges are dropped by prosecutors because the housekeeper has been discredited as a complainant, then we will never learn what really went on that hotel room—and it still looked a lot like a powerful man treating an unwilling housekeeper as if she were there for his sexual pleasure.
But, this post clearly touched a nerve, and not the one I intended. As a relatively novice blogger, I’ve learned two things from the reader reaction—which I should have known.
First, on the subject of rape, one needs to choose one’s words with extreme care. The writer attempts irony at great peril.
Second, blogs and tweets tend to be written fast, and read even faster. It’s easy to be glib, or sloppy, or misunderstood. My hero, John Kenneth Galbraith, used to say when complimented on his “effortless” prose, “By the fifth draft, it starts looking effortless.”
On the subject of rape and consent, I have no differences with most of the readers who took exception to this post.