Rape, Good Victims and HORRIBLE JOURNALISM

So I wake up this morning and as I am pilfering through the morning news I read a story on the NYTimes about how the Strauss-Kahn case is “on the verge of collapse.” Now, when the allegations came out against Strauss-Kahn I was shocked at the media’s response to the case. There were minimal stories on the background of the accuser, on what she was doing that day, on who she hung out with or the things she liked to do. She was taken seriously as someone who was REPORTING A CRIME, her credibility was not undermined by journalists “uncovering” facts about her sexuality, her situation or things of that nature.

As the media ran out of things to write about, with Strauss-Kahn awaiting his trial and the accuser silent, the NYTimes began to look into her background, and profiled her as what Jezebel termed a “Noble Savage” – a “good victim”. Now, as we can all probably remember, the NYTimes happens to have a HORRENDOUS track record when it comes to reporting on victims of rape, so perhaps type-castingStrauss-Kahn’s accuser was their attempt to showcase their journalistic abilities, which resulted in a weird stereotypical portrait of a noble immigrant.

Well folks, it seems this morning things have just got a lot worse. The crux of the article is in this paragraph, “Although forensic tests found unambiguous evidence of a sexual encounter between Mr. Strauss-Kahn, a French politician, and the woman, prosecutors now do not believe much of what the accuser has told them about the circumstances or about herself.”

So. Even though Strauss-Kahn fled the scene, even though numerous other victims are coming out and taking a stand against him, and EVEN THOUGH THERE IS FORENSIC EVIDENCE TO PROVE AN ENCOUNTER HAPPENED, now the accuser is discredited because apparently the accuser did not tell officials that she was involved with an incarcerated man. And there is more; the prosecution just got a hold of the taped conversations. Conversations where she ASKS HIM IF SHE SHOULD PRESS CHARGES – where she weighed the pros and cons of pressing charges. Wow, apparently that is enough to mar her reputation as a noble victim. Also, apparently there are “inconsistencies” about how the accuser describes her own FGM experiences. These “revelations” in my mind are laughable, however I know that this morning many people will read this article and for the first time believe that Strauss-Kahn might actually be innocent.

The thing is, the story about her attack hasn’t changed. And even if it had that shouldn’t discredit her. The fact that the NYTimes is yet again publishing alarmist calls about a rape case isn’t particularly surprising. The fact that their story unquestioningly takes the tactics that are being used to discredit people who bravely report and accuse rapists is sad, it is unjust, and it is not surprising that even police officers who admit their rape on tape are not charged. Even if the accuser was running a drug-ring out of her basement, that should not affect her being taken seriously as a victim of sexual assault.

There should not be such a thing as good victims and bad victims. All victims, all women and men, should be taken seriously when they take the difficult step of reporting sexual assault. Until we stop type-casting women, until we stop assuming that WOMEN are the case of rape and not the RAPISTS WHO RAPE THEM, and until news sources like the New York Times are held accountable for the damage that they cause every time a story like this passes an editor’s desk, we will have to keep marching as sluts, hand in hand.

**Slutwalk is coming to NYC on August 20th, 2011**

Join the Conversation

  • http://feministing.com/members/smiles/ Smiley

    Lizzy,

    I can agree with many of your points. Yes, you can be a drug dealer and be raped. Yes, you can lie about your background and cheat on your taxes, and be raped.

    But… one can be a cad and treat women not very well, and be a brutal seducer, and not be a rapist.

    The point is not what or how the NYT reports the story. The point is rather the claimant’s credibility (I use ‘claimant’ rather than ‘victim’ for obvious reasons.)

    The prosecutor knows that the defence will attack the claimant on her honsesty and credibility. And apparently (I use the term advisedly), the prosecutor has doubts about her story (what she did after the encounter, etc.) (and, yes, a sexual encouter can be non-violet and can also be non-rape).

    In that case, the prosecutor has to weigh up the evidence and determine if he can reasonably expect to condemn the accused. If the thinks that the defence has a strong case and will be able to plant a seed of doubt in one juror, then it is right that he should think twice about going ahead with a prosecution.

    It would be unwise for him to proceed if there is little chance of getting a conviction, and it would also be a waste of many people’s time and of taxpayer’s’ fund.

    I don’t know what happened, but I’d like to hear all the evidence. Wait and see.

  • http://www.feministcupcake.com laiven

    I know, I know innocent until proven guilty – but – its all the other women who say this guy did this to them and all the other women that have been targeted for what the wore or what they said – and the history of women being tortured and ridiculed through rape – particularly minority women and under privileged women – oh god its disgusting. I cannot be objective. I hate that this man is free today.

    • davenj

      “I hate that this man is free today.”

      He’s not. He’s out on bail. The case is still ongoing, and he can’t leave the country.

      Regardless, it seems like you’re incapable of applying the innocent until proven guilty standard because you’re applying all of society’s failings to an individual, an individual who may not even be guilty. That’s pretty problematic.

  • http://feministing.com/members/emilybowles/ Emily Bowles

    one thing that i think is horrible in media events like this one is how journalists go to such great lengths to protect the potential rapist through language–sure, innocent until proven guilty, but what that language ends up doing is reinscribing the victim (“alleged victim”) in a rhetoric of shame and victim blaming. it’s a precarious bind: of course the media, the justice system, and others involved in sexual assault cases can’t throw around the language that i’d like (most of which involves expletives), but when protecting one person makes the woman who received some kind of unwelcome sexual contact–whatever that constitutes in a specific case–feel like a whore, like she was asking for it, etc., well i agree with lizzy: that’s what makes the slutwalk movement important now.

  • http://feministing.com/members/kirstennicole/ Kirsten White

    I agree- that article makes me sick. The one this morning from Reuters made me vomit even more, when this quote came up:

    “This would not be the first case where an important prosecution witness turned out not to be the angel or pure victim that the prosecution initially thought. Nor would it be the first case a prosecution’s office took a case to trial where a witness had real credibility issues,” Columbia Law School Professor Daniel Richman said.

    Correlates precisely to the “only the virgin who is sodomized” can actually be raped myth, because any other woman is impure and not an angel. OMFG really?! A “pure victim”?! WTF is that supposed to mean? That she was performing no sexuality at the time or complicit behaviors. But even if she was, she can still be raped!

    You are so right, these news pieces and the “experts” quoted and those involved in the case, all of them are sunk knee-deep in the sad implications of rape culture and its intimate, incestuous relationship with the legal system. The victim, the “claimant” (in the world outside the court case, she is being victimized anyway), this woman bears the onus of being an angel for her case to be “credible.” Why isn’t Strauss-Kahn bearing the onus of being a dick?