In a Greece that is crumbling under the recession, people are, perhaps understandably, looking to place blame. The IMF has been the recipient of lots of Greek anger and the recent sexual assault and attempted rape allegations against former IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn have prompted a conversation on not only finances and management, but also on victimization and personal integrity.
I am a Greek, a feminist, a specialist in gender-related development in conflict zones, a writer on “women’s issues”. But mostly, today, I am angry. Regardless of whether Strauss-Kahn is innocent or guilty, I am frustrated by the way the conversation on sexual assault has been unfolding.
In a conversation with a Greek woman yesterday, I heard that Mr. Strauss-Kahn is “simply too intelligent to have sexually assaulted a maid.” The allegation that sexual assault correlates with intelligence and only those who are perceived to be less intelligent commit such acts grants unwarranted reprieve on those who are perceived to be smart. Attempting to determine our own intelligence, let alone that of others, is a nightmare. Now try to think about doing that in order to gage the inclination towards sexual assault.
Many are arguing that the incident was a set-up to destroy Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s political life. If that is the case, then I am ashamed for how this degrades the gravity of sexual assault and the pain that victims carry with them. This is too serious an issue to pin on someone as another move in the political chess board. However, I am equally bothered by the fact that some automatically assume that politics can be the only motivation for this scandal, that the woman’s story cannot hold truth on its own, as she told it.
A corollary of this is the too-old “blame the victim” approach. It infuriated me when this reaction surfaced in response to the news of Lara Logan’s sexual assault in Egypt and it infuriates me now. Ben Stein argued that he has had some maids who have been “complete lunatics“, thus calling into question the mental soundness of the woman who pressed charges. Jon Stewart and MenSpeakUp have issued responses to Ben Stein on this matter. Whether we are talking about Strauss-Kahn or a case of sexual assault that will never receive this magnitude of press attention, starting with the assumption that the person who pressed charges is not credible, or – worse – that she or he invited or deserved the assault is not the way to do anyone justice.
Finally, a note on justice. Last night there was a poll on a Greek prime-time news program: “Did Strauss-Kahn do it or not?” It is problematic that we are attempting to adjudicate a sexual assault case from our armchair. Strauss-Kahn deserves the presumed innocence that governs court cases, just as the woman who pressed charges against him deserves for those charges to be treated seriously and investigated with dignity. Ultimately, only those with access to testimonies and evidence are equipped to make a decision on Strauss-Kahn’s innocence. The rest of us are merely extrapolating from assertions on the two parties’ characters to adjudicate an issue we do not have the information or the mandate to determine. In doing so, we are undermining the process of justice, the defendant’s right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and the gravity of the issue of sexual assault and attempted rape.
Ultimately, I cannot know if Strauss-Kahn “did it”, though 79% of my compatriots who answered the aforementioned poll think he is innocent. I cannot know if the charges are fictitious. I cannot know the motives. But I can know that the immediate assertions that are popping up in the discourse about this topic, from “intelligent men do not rape” to “the woman made it up” to “he is a womanizer, therefore, he definitely did it”, are dangerous and harmful to women, men, sexual assault victims and the justice process alike.