Earl Ofari Hutchinson's take on the politics of the day
Former IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn loudly declared that he didn’t rape a maid in his hotel room during his stay in New York. Strauss-Kahn is certainly entitled to proclaim his innocence. Under the law he is just that, innocent until convicted in a court of law. But the same can’t be said for his alleged victim. Virtually from the moment that she made the charge against Strauss-Kahn, she has been tried, convicted, sentenced, and pilloried relentlessly in the press and on blogs and websites.
There’s no mystery why. She has five strikes against her that made her ripe for the race baiting and victim bashing pickings of the much of the media, the public, French officials, and from many African writers. She is a low wage domestic, a West African immigrant whose legal status has been subject to question, she allegedly resided in a Bronx apartment building that caters exclusively to the HIV/AIDS afflicted, and by inference is HIV afflicted, and most importantly is a black woman. Strauss-Kahn is rich, powerful, politically connected at the highest levels, and is popular with French public opinion. Strauss-Kahn’s defenders didn’t stop there. They blithely ignored his checkered history of sexual bad behavior and victimization to reach even deeper in the apology bin to claim that he is the victim of an anti-Semitic conspiracy by everyone from French President Nicolas Sarkozy to unnamed political enemies. Their motive supposedly is to torpedo his chances at the French presidency. He’s Jewish and is widely regarded and one of the front runners for the top spot. An initial poll cited by the French public radio service RFI found that nearly 60 percent of those polled said that Strauss-Kahn was “set-up.”
None of these things have absolutely any relevance to the charge. Either Strauss-Kahn did or didn’t commit the act that he is charged with. His or his alleged victim’s status is meaningless to the facts of the case. But that’s simply to look at rape cases purely from the standpoint of the law and the facts in the case. And it’s never that simple. Race would cast a long shadow over the charge even if Strauss-Kahn’s alleged victim had none of the strikes against her and Strauss-Kahn was not a rich, politically powerful figure, with no dubious history of sexual bad behavior and victimization.
Women's groups have waged a relentless and often times frustrating fight to get police, prosecutors, the courts and the media to treat rape as a serious crime, especially when the victims are poor, black or minority women and the alleged attackers are white males. They have battled the long history of gender and race stereotypes and the routine negative typecasting of black women as sexually loose, available, and crime prone. In decades past that made police hesitant to make arrests and prosecutors reluctant to vigorously prosecute rape cases when the victims were black women. That put women, particularly black women, at greater risk from sexual attack, and virtually assured that authorities would turn a blind eye to the perpetrators.
Strauss-Kahn in the not too distant past would have likely gotten the full benefit of the traditional official blind-eye to a rape charge against a black woman, and if arrested, would have quickly posted bail, and winged his way back to France. Everything would have been said and done to paint his accuser as a gold-digging, liar, of tainted character. Race would lurked underneath the character assassination and used subtly and openly to make the slur against her believable.
This is exactly what’s being done now even though authorities did slap Strauss-Kahn in a jail cell and initially deny him bail. The battle lines over whether he is truly a sexual predator or an innocent victim of a money scam, a set-up, or politically motivated attack will heat up in the coming days if and probably when Strauss-Kahn’s alleged victim name and picture is “leaked.” It will be plastered over blogs and websites and the rumor mill will churn overtime feeding on every tidbit of gossip, allegation, and distorted fact about the alleged victim. She will be retried and re-convicted again in the press. The image assault will be dutifully punctuated with a choice quote from Strauss-Kahn’s attorneys and prominent defenders that he is a victim and a target, and that it’s absolutely incredulous that a man of his name and prestige, and with so much to lose would stoop to have sex with a maid, and unstated but strongly inferred, a black maid at that.
Strauss-Kahn set the wheel in motion for his counter-attack when he again passionately denied following his release on $1 million bail that he was innocent. The case and the subsequent trial will continue to stir passions and resentments, and will be yet another object lesson that when the alleged victim is a black female and the accused attacker is a white male politics, race and passions always collide. The lines will be deliberately blurred between just who is the real victim. In this case with much of the public it won’t be Strauss-Kahn’s alleged victim.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com
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