Commentary Violence

Raped? An Immigrant or Woman of Color? Lesson of the DSK Case: Don’t Bother

Kathleen Reeves

When the next housekeeper is assaulted, she can look to the way the DSK case has played out for guidance.

Since last Friday, when the Times reported that the prosecution’s case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn was “near collapse,” people on both sides of the Atlantic have been shaking their heads sagely with an “I-told-you-so” admonition of the “rush-to-judgment” against DSK.

The truly appalling rush to judgment in this case is against the alleged victim, who claimed she was attacked while cleaning Strauss-Kahn’s room at the Sofitel. The tide turned, hard, against the housekeeper, with these damning reports from the Times:

prosecutors now do not believe much of what the accuser has told them about the circumstances or about herself . . . the accuser has repeatedly lied, one of the law enforcement officials said.

The victim, now an “accuser,” has been deemed no longer credible for the following reasons:

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  • she hangs out with a pot dealer, who sometimes deposits large sums into her bank account
  • she had a conversation with that pot dealer, who is now in jail, about what could come their way (money) if DSK were convicted, and that conversation was recorded
  • she lied during the process of immigrating from Guinea

I read last Friday’s article more than once, convinced that I was missing something. 1) How is discussion of financial remuneration proof of fabrication? And why was that conversation recorded?? 2) Immigrating to the United States “legally” is hard/impossible. 3) The drug-dealer-consorting charge is so dumb that I’m not going to respond to it.

The next day we heard of another strike against the housekeeper, this one at least peripherally relevant, as it has to do with her actions after the assault:

The housekeeper admitted to prosecutors that she had lied about what happened after the encounter on the 28th floor of the hotel, the Sofitel New York. She initially said that after she had been attacked she waited in a hallway until Mr. Strauss-Kahn left the room. She now admits that after the episode, she cleaned a nearby room, then returned to Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s suite to clean there. Only after that did she report to her supervisor that she had been attacked.

The woman’s lawyer’s response to this BIG LIE—that “her decision to clean a room afterward was consistent with someone who was confused and upset”—was, I fear, barely heard above the din. Unfortunately, the housekeeper’s confusion is all too understandable, and it points to the distorting power dynamics of this case.

People do all sorts of things after trauma, mundane things like cleaning a room, before the enormity of what’s happened catches up to them. This is, on the one hand, the mind’s way of protecting itself. And in this case, the woman probably did think twice about reporting the rape (and then was afraid that this hesitation would condemn her): Would anyone believe her? Would she lose her job if she stopped cleaning Floor 28? Would she be punished for saying what happened to her?

Well, yes, she would.

After undergoing an exhaustive physical examination which corroborated her story—there was not only forensic evidence of the forced oral sex she described, but also bruising—the woman was interrogated about her immigration status and jailbird friends, and finally pronounced a “hooker” by the NY Post (she’s now suing the Post for libel).

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 60 percent of rapes go unreported, and this case demonstrates why. When the next housekeeper is assaulted, she can look to the way this played out for guidance. Do I want my body inspected and the “evidence” on it ignored? Do I want my conversations with friends recorded and used against me? Do I want to be accused of “turning tricks” by the New York Post? Do I want my immigration status probed? After all this, do I want to be pronounced a liar and criminal? Do I want to submit myself to this when there’s a good chance that my attacker will not serve time?

Bernard-Henri Lévy, who has supported DSK all along and is now apparently “vindicated” for this support, has this to say about his man’s treatment by authorities and the media:

This vision of Dominique Strauss-Kahn humiliated in chains, dragged lower than the gutter—this degradation of a man whose silent dignity couldn’t be touched, was not just cruel, it was pornographic. And it was at least as pornographic (because, I repeat, it’s the same thing) as attorney Kenneth Thompson’s visible glee in expounding on the state of his client’s “vagina” [sic] before the entire world.

Was DSK’s perp-walk crueler than the way that this woman’s “background” and “character” were used against her when the crime that happened in the hotel room has nothing to do with drugs or immigration (a sadly not-unusual tactic of “whoring” women who claim to have been raped)? This woman, who lied, as thousands do, in order to get into this country, gave a forceful, unwavering, and detailed account of what Dominique Strauss-Kahn did to her. This was not something she “fabricated” over time for the prosecutors, but the testimony she gave very soon after her assault, to a counselor at the hospital where she was treated (a warning, Mr. Lévy: the following account is “pornographic” and includes the word “vagina”):

As soon as the housekeeper walked in, she told the counselor, a man, “naked, with ‘white hair,'” locked the door behind her and pushed her onto the bed.

He “put his penis into her mouth briefly,” the report said. She told him to stop and tried to get away, according to the report, but he pulled her toward the bathroom. He put his hands under her clothes and touched her crotch area, the report said. After she fell to the carpeted floor, according to the report, Mr. Strauss-Kahn again forced her to perform oral sex, grabbing her by the hair and controlling her head with force.

The woman’s lawyer, Kenneth P. Thompson, has since said the housekeeper suffered bruising to her vagina during the episode.

After all this, the housekeeper, branded “a pathological liar and scam artist,” is the one in the gutter; Strauss-Kahn and his wife look none the worse for wear. After all, the gutter’s for dirty drug-dealers and African immigrants; the IMF is squeaky-clean.

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