Media gets some things right in covering the arrest of IMF head

Dominique Strauss-Kahn Like many of you, I’ve been following news of the arrest of IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn with great interest.

You’ll remember that Strauss-Kahn was arrested over the weekend for sexually assaulting a 32-year-old chambermaid in the luxury suite of a Midtown Manhattan hotel where he was staying. He was apprehended Saturday when police boarded a plane set to depart for France.

He has since been placed on suicide watch at Riker’s.

As Jos mentioned in her original post on this topic, Strauss-Kahn led one of the most powerful economic institutions in the world, and was also the expected frontrunner in the upcoming presidential election in France.

In short, he was one of the most powerful men in the world, whose victim was a working class immigrant and woman of color. So although she hoped to be proven wrong, Jos feared for the worst in anticipating how coverage of this story would play out in the press and popular conversation.

Which is why I’ve been cautiously, tentatively, but pleasantly surprised by most of the media coverage surrounding this event. Amidst news that Strauss-Kahn’s accuser will testify against him, and that she plans to reject any accusations that she consented to sex with him in her testimony, I can’t help but notice: victim-blaming following the arrest of the IMF head has not been as common as it has been in past similar situations.

Of course, there are some notable exceptions. The NY Post published a terrible article this morning suggesting that Strauss-Kahn’s victim is perhaps HIV positive. It displays blatant disrespect and disregard for the victim’s confidentiality and perpetuates stigma and discrimination against HIV positive people.

And of course, various figures have predictably and infuriatingly come out of the woodworks to defend Strauss-Kahn and inevitably engage in victim-blaming. Or as Jill describes it over at Feministe, “my-friends-can-do-no-wrong-ing”. The best example being Bernard-Henri Levy’s article in the Daily Beast explaining why Strauss-Kahn should not have the suffer the indignities of the American justice system because, of course, the woman who accused Strauss-Kahn of assault is probably lying. (He was also a defender of Roman Polanksi.)

But my impression is that articles and reactions like this have been, for the most part, the exception and not the norm. And since we spend so much time and energy criticizing the media when they get things wrong, I think it’s also important to take a moment to acknowledge what they’re doing right.

For the most part, prominent media outlets have respected the victim’s confidentiality and steered clear of providing details that would undermine her credibility or prompt victim blaming.

The New York Times has focused their coverage on Strauss-Kahn himself and the implications of his arrest, as is appropriate. When they do mention the victim, they mostly speak to her status as a working woman and immigrant, including ultimately mundane quotes like this one:

“She’s a wonderful, hard-working woman, that’s why she’s in pain,” said the man [the victim's brother], who added that he and the victim’s daughter were the only family she had in the country. He would not provide any details on her condition, but said that his sister was resting in a secure location and that “she is coming back normally” with the help of her lawyer.

This Reuter’s article even acknowledges the frequency with which men of power are accused of abusing maids or nannies, implying a connection between their vast power and their treatment of women they perceive to be weaker or less powerful.

“…The charges against him also shine a light on how diplomats and international officials have been accused of abusing maids or nannies in the United States, and have largely escaped prosecution.

Foreign diplomats have been the subject of at least 11 civil lawsuits and one criminal prosecution related to abuse of domestic workers in the last five years, according to a Reuters review of U.S. federal court records. The allegations range from slave-like work conditions to rape, and the vast majority of the diplomats in these cases avoided prison terms and financial penalties…

A common theme in many of the incidents involving alleged abuse of maids and nannies is the elevated legal status of the foreign officials, which some experts say can lead to an improper sense of superiority and make them believe they are unaccountable. Also, most of the alleged victims come from countries where women have few rights, making them easy prey. “In short, diplomatic immunity means diplomatic impunity,” says Mark Lagon, former head of the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.”

Even in this article, which announces that Strauss-Kahn may claim consensual sex as a defense, mentions of the victim’s character seem to carefully and pointedly avoid inspiring blame or skepticism. Information about her is stated factually, not sensationally, and details of her life are mostly presented as they were provided by her lawyer.

Of course, this is all still unfolding, and it is too soon to tell how ugly things may get. How have you found the coverage of this case? Feel free to leave outstanding examples of coverage, both good and bad, in comments.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is a writer and advocate focusing on race, gender, and sexual and reproductive rights. In addition to her work at Feministing, Lori is an Associate Director at Planned Parenthood Global. Lori has previously worked at the United Nations Foundation, the International Women’s Health Coalition, and Human Rights Watch, and has written for a host of print and digital properties including Rookie Magazine, The Grio, and the New York Times Magazine. She regularly appears on radio and television, and has spoken at college campuses across the U.S. about topics like the politics of black hair, transnational movement building, and the undercover feminism of Nicki Minaj. In 2014, she was named to The Root 100 list of the nation's most influential African Americans, and to the Forbes Magazine list of the "30 Under 30" successful people in media.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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