Ben Stein’s defense of DSK: Economists don’t rape people

Ben Stein thinks that economists can’t be rapists or sexual assailants because, I mean, have you ever heard of an economist raping someone? I guess since you can’t think of one off the top of your head, it means economists aren’t rapists. This wise piece of evidence is just one of several ridiculous defenses of Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK), who was recently accused of sexually assaulting and attempting to rape a hotel maid in New York City on May 15.

I’ve heard a lot of different defenses against these allegations. That he fell victim to a “honey trap,” an attempt to sabotage him both as the powerful head of the IMF and the strongest challenger to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, is the most popular conspiracy theory, as it was with Julian Assange’s sexual assault allegations in the wake of Wikileaks’ growing prominence in the media. But Ben Stein’s take the cake — either they are typical victim-blaming/ignorant claims, or they are simply non-sensical. Let’s take a look, shall we?

1. If he is such a womanizer and violent guy with women, why didn’t he ever get charged until now?

I don’t have a law degree, but I’m going to say that “he didn’t get caught before” isn’t a solid explanation for why someone is innocent of all charges. Someone should tell Ben Stein that people do, in fact, get away with crimes. Sometimes, they get away with a lot of crimes and aren’t caught until much later. Sometimes they are never caught. My mom has been driving for nearly 40 years and hasn’t gotten a speeding ticket — but that doesn’t mean she never speeds (she rarely isn’t speeding, actually …).

But what I think Ben is trying to imply is that if he had a long history of violence toward women, surely something would have come out before now. A journalist claims she wanted to come forward about being sexually assaulted but was convinced not to for political reasons. While being powerful might lead one to more public scrutiny, it also leads one to being able to hide a lot of information. Whether it be through cash, other bribes, or intimidation, people with power and money can keep things swept under the rug for a long time.

Oh, and there’s also a huge stigma around sexual assault that influences underreporting — in fact, about 60 percent of rapes and sexual assaults aren’t reported to police. The trauma of sexual assault, any threats the sexual assailant might have made if the victim reports the crime, the self-blaming, the victim-blaming, and the re-opening of trauma that would happen in a courtroom, lead people to shy away from reporting sexual assaults. So, many people get away with it.

2. In life, events tend to follow patterns. People who commit crimes tend to be criminals, for example. Can anyone tell me any economists who have been convicted of violent sex crimes?

Oh shit, Ben Stein! You’re so right! People who commit crimes tend to be employed as “criminals,” and they don’t usually hold any other jobs. People’s jobs are values-based, with economists being on the morally superior scale of the spectrum, and those other people being “criminals.” Because, again, all criminals are duly accused of crimes and never get away with it, and criminals do not assume identities as people with non-criminal jobs.

Did you know, Ben Stein, that people suspect an economist from Zimbabwe (also a noted “womanizer”) raped an 11-year-old girl? Or that CEO of American Apparel, Dov Charney, has been accused of sexual assault? Did you know that in the Catholic church there’s a lot of controversy about some priests molesting children? Did you know that people can be successful financially and professionally but still be really terrible and violent?

Also, did you know that “undetected rapists” are prevalent in society? These are people who have raped other people but haven’t been caught or convicted. In fact, nearly two-thirds of undetected rapists are serial rapists (is that the same as “womanizer”?). So there definitely could be a pattern here, if you accept that people who don’t look like criminals might actually be criminals, and that someone’s personal characteristics — whether it be gender, race, class, job, etc. — don’t automatically exclude them from criminal activity, in the same way they don’t guarantee criminal activity.

3. The prosecutors say that Mr. Strauss-Kahn “forced” the complainant to have oral and other sex with him. How? Did he have a gun? Did he have a knife? He’s a short fat old man. They were in a hotel with people passing by the room constantly, if it’s anything like the many hotels I am in. How did he intimidate her in that situation? And if he was so intimidating, why did she immediately feel un-intimidated enough to alert the authorities as to her story?

I just had to include the entire question here. Oddly enough, undetected rapists “use psychological weapons – power, control, manipulation, and threats – backed up by physical force, and almost never resort to weapons such as knives or guns,” but that’s just food for thought. And yeah Ben Stein, maybe he did have a weapon. Or maybe he threatened her. Or maybe she was so scared since he had allegedly already physically attacked her that she was terrified what would happen otherwise.

Him being a short, fat man doesn’t mean anything. So if he did sexually assault her, it’s her fault because he looks non-threatening to another old man? Of course you don’t think DSK is threatening Ben Stein, because you aren’t worried he might attack you and sexually assault you. So good for you for thinking he is not intimidating, but you’re also not a likely target of this alleged “womanizer.”

And how many people do you think pass by a $3,000 a night suite in a hotel? I doubt it’s like the Holiday Inn where rooms are cramped together. But even so, maybe people did hear and just walked past. People do this all the time. And even if it was a populated place, does that mean that rape can’t happen in populated places? People are sexually assaulted on subways and trains all the time, with plenty of people watching. And being intimidated while a guy is attacking you is different than when you’ve escaped and the guy isn’t around anymore. (And maybe you’re terrified he’ll find you again if you don’t get him arrested?)

4. Did the prosecutors really convince a judge that he was a flight risk when he was getting on a flight he had booked long beforehand?

It doesn’t make a difference when he booked the flight — it makes a difference that the alleged sexual assault occurred right before he knew he was about the board a flight, that he was heading back to a country that wouldn’t extradite him, and that he is a powerful, rich man who has the means to skip town if awarded bail.

5. Did he really have to be put in Riker’s Island? Couldn’t he have been given home detention with a guard? This is a man with a lifetime of public service, on a distinguished level, to put it mildly.

Sorry, but you don’t get to trade good deeds for bad ones. Being a distinguished guy doesn’t mean you should get special treatment when charged with sexual assault and attempted rape. Though I’ll admit that everything I know about Riker’s Island I learned from Law & Order: SVU.

6. What do we know about the complainant besides that she is a hotel maid? I love and admire hotel maids. They have incredibly hard jobs and they do them uncomplainingly. I am sure she is a fine woman. On the other hand, I have had hotel maids that were complete lunatics, stealing airline tickets from me, stealing money from me, throwing away important papers, stealing medications from me.

I see why Ben Stein is so confused — he’s never known an economist who was violent toward women so they don’t exist, and he knew a hotel maid who was a thief (aka criminal) so they all must be criminals. My little brother stole my Pokemon cards when I was 12, and I’ve been suspicious of all other little brothers I encounter ever since. Also, under this mode of thinking, can I assume all former presidential speech writers and game show hosts are ridiculous and ignorant when it comes to sexual assault?

7. Right off the bat [Diane Sawyer] leads the Monday news by saying that Mr. Strauss-Kahn is in Riker’s… “because one woman stood her ground…” That assumes she’s telling the truth and he’s guilty. No such thing has been proved and it’s unfortunate for ABC to simply assume that an accusation is the same as a conviction.

OK Ben, I’ll agree with you on this one. Charges and convictions are not the same thing, so people — especially journalists — should be careful to note that DSK is an alleged sexual assailant.

8. In what possible way is the price of the hotel room relevant except in every way: this is a case about the hatred of the have-nots for the haves, and that’s what it’s all about. A man pays $3,000 a night for a hotel room? He’s got to be guilty of something. Bring out the guillotine.

Boo hoo. I think the price of the hotel room is important because it illustrates that DSK is a wealthy man, and likely a powerful man, too. His wealth is a talking point for people who think he’s guilty because it makes him a flight risk, and his wealth points to his power, and his power might be involved in this alleged sexually assault; his wealth is a talking point for people who think he’s innocent, and that he is a target for sabotage because of his wealth and power. It’s important.

But poor people do always revolt against rich people who have been committing crimes and misdeeds. That’s why Charlie Sheen — who has an extensive history of violence against women, drug use, etc. — is on the guillotine right now. Oh wait — he’s selling out concert venues on his tour and is really popular right now. I guess just being rich doesn’t automatically make people hate you? (I really wish this were true Ben, in the case of Charlie.)


I don’t know if Ben Stein was trying to be satirical, but I am afraid he is genuinely serious here. (And even if he isn’t, there are a lot of people who likely believe these defenses are solid.) The ideas that the only criminals who exist have a documented criminal history, that victims of crimes aren’t silenced or intimidated into silence, that a woman can’t be forced to perform oral sex, that a powerful man isn’t a flight risk — I just can’t help but staring at my computer screen and thinking, “WTF? People used to compete against your intelligence to win money and they often lost?”

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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