Sunday, 3 July 2011

WHAT A BURDEN TO BEAR...


The Dominique Strauss Kahn case turned into a real rape investigation today. Not the eyes of the world are on us, let's pretend we're a Linda Fairstein novel investigation of the past six weeks, but the proper bare knuckle fight every victim who has ever told what happened to anyone, especially the police, recognises with a sinking feeling in their stomach. The kind where facts and forensics get shunted aside and all focus turns on taking every single part of the victim's life apart to intimate that even though the alleged attacker is a super nice guy who wouldn't do such a thing, the victim is a vile lying harpy that represents all that is bad about society and would have deserved to be raped...if of course a rape had taken place...

Obviously I have no idea what went on in that hotel room in New York, but I can smell the distinct odour of bullshit emanating from the vicinity as things progress. Strauss Kahn does not deny sexual contact, he just disputes that there was no consent, giving us the potential scenarios of him having consensual sex with a chambermaid who didn't even know he was in the room but upon seeing him emerge dripping wet and naked from the shower, didn't scream in surprise, but drop to her knees and show a guest at her place of work a good time orally. I find it unlikely that she'd risk her job for a quickie on the shagpile. I find it even more unlikely that after zipping himself back up, he was so overcome with the guilt of cheating on his wife on a whim that he hightailed it to JFK so fast he left his phone behind. Yet plenty of people seem to be thinking this is entirely feasible. I only assume they are the kind of people who don't realise that 9 times of 10 the pouting honeys in lads' mags are essentially playing a role when they are 'up for it' in front of the camera and that women don't actually walk round in a state of such permanent arousal and consent that they no matter what can't say no to cock? Not even when they sober, or working or in a long term relationship or hormonal. Women can't say no. Of course the chambermaid would have been wooed by the simple act of pulling back the shower curtain. It happened all the time in 70s porn films...

Or if it seems unrealistic that both of them were overcome with carnal lusts for each other within 30 seconds of their eyes meeting across the bathmat, maybe he paid her. I'm not naive enough to think everyone who phones down to reception for a spare pillow actually likes to sleep well supported. High end hotels probably see quite a lot of sex work. And without debating the ethics of prostitution, it is possible that the chambermaid might have been engaged in sex work alongside her cleaning duties. That doesn't mean you can't rape a prostitute. Prostitution invloves the exchange of a specific agreed sex act for money. It's not a entrance fee. Just because you paid for manual stimulation doesn't mean you get oral sex as well. And that doesn't even cover the fact that you can still threaten, cajole and coerce a woman usually charges for sexual services if you are that way inclined. But the people who are supporting the supposition that she's a working girl and thus lying are probably the kind of people to think the only thing worse than a prostitute, is a prostitute with the attitude to stand up for herself.

And even when the suggestion is made that Dominique Strauss Kahn sexually assaulted the chambermaid, as feasibily suggested by the vaginal bruising, ligament damage to her shoulder and cuts and bruises documented by police approved medical staff at the hospital within hours, there are still other excuses made. The usual one even when she's torn and bleeding and bruised is that she likes it rough. And not only does she like it rough, unlike most people in normal consensual BDSM relationships, she doesn't wait to have rough sex in a trusting relationship with boundaries and safe words, she engages in it instantly without discussion with a man she met mere moments earlier.

Even with the encouragement of a chorus of 'see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil' monkeys, all the scenarios for consensual sex sound a little implausible*.( But since the truth is often stranger than fiction, that's exactly why both accused and accuser should get their day in court.) So that's when things step up a notch, the tone changes and the focus shifts from him to her. The character assassins have arrived with their insanely ridiculously unrealistically high standards. While no one suggests that anyone should be convicted of rape or sexual assault on mere whimsy, I find it telling that in every case, the focus changes from trying to prove a crime was committed into trying to prove the victim isn't worth the paper the law is written on. In a cute new twist on the witchtrials of yore, rape victims' trustworthiness are ducked in the pool of morality. Fail to mention one second of your attack or one aspect of life or past and howls of 'liar liar' go up and it is deemed that you can't rape a liar. Be brutally upfront and mention the recreational drugs at college or the prior flirtatious relationship with him or the year you were a sex worker and beneath the gasps of shock and fanning of one's self and inhalation of smelling salts at failing the test of social acceptability, you'll hear the belief that you can't rape a woman of low morals. These days the ducking stool is more likely a witness box.

And if you were the one lone woman who didn't fail the test that has no right answers, don't sigh with relief just yet. Even if you tick all the socially acceptable boxes, the boundaries will simply be moved until you are pushed outside the lines. So even if you were cycling home from the library with an unbridged Bible and a fully intact hymen, they'll go after those around you. Maybe you fraternise with prisoners. Maybe you stole a penny chew aged seven. Maybe you told a friend that hareem pants don't make her arse look enormous. Maybe you asked about how your finances even though you've lost your job after being assaulted.Maybe your dad has a few bondage magazines tucked away in the garden shed? You are no longer perfect by association. You no longer deserve to be protected by law and treated like a human being. You have fallen from grace. It's like you ate the bloody apple all over again. And you can't have been raped.

But strangely enough this intense spotlight of suspicion doesn't seem to shine on the other person involved. The accused is not held to the same unrealistically high burden of proof. His inability to remember the entire situation in pinsharp detail is forgiven. His drinking habits and dalliances with drugs aren't scrutinised. His finances, work history and wardrobe aren't put under a magnifying glass. Those trips to strip clubs with friends, subscriptions of men's magazines and internet porn history are just examples of being a red blooded male. Even in cases were there are prior allegations of domestic violence, rape or sexual harrassment are seen as irrelevant, just the rantings of those man hating feminazis. The allegations of his bad character cannot be used as grounds for conviction, but her perceived flaws are enough to dismiss her case and her as a human being.

Occasionally, just occasionally, a case sneaks through and gets a guilty verdict. These will be the cases so beyond the pale that everyone has run out of excuses for the accused and an invisible line has between flawed human being and monster has been crossed. The depravity and violence has become frightening and uncontrollable and starts repulse people. Girls are hit on heads with hammers, bodies are hidden in churches, rape victims are so numerous they couldn't all fit in one court, crossbows are used. And when Levi Bellfield, Peter Tobin, John Warboys, Delroy Grant and Stephen Griffiths are convicted and the country reels in horror, there is always a litany of dropped cases, short sentences, shoddy investigations and disappointed doubted victims left shattered and brutalised. And everyone who says 'it must never happen again' about those infamous events, start tutting at the length of her skirt or judging her for not wanting to sit in a room full of strange men and shooting the breeze about sex acts and semen or her Female Genital Mutilation the next time they hear or read about a rape victim again. And the cycle continues.

I'm not suggesting Dominique Strauss Kahn is a serial killer in the making. We don't yet have answers about whether he's a rapist. All my slightly hypocritical nitpicking earlier might be me showing how little I really know. But the problem lies with the fact that no one outside of the prosecution (and actually it was the prosecution who leaked the details to the New York Times in this case) in rape cases actually seems to want to get the truth. And that truth is that some men hurt and abuse and assault women. It's also that some women accuse falsely. It's that rapists are fucked up and flawed people. And that victims are humans, not idealistic representations of virtue. And that everyone involved in cases of sexual violence bring their pasts and presents and thoughts and feelings to it and it's not easy. But that's all the more reason to let events and facts and realities speak for themselves and show the way to answers in all their gritty reality rather than compel things into being as simplistic and saccharine as to say all men are one way and all women are another.

Life isn't black and white, but when the stakes are as high as they are with rape, we need to start accepting shades of grey. And we start doing that by having the same rules for victim and attacker, not letting bias be the bonus ball. But until we stop holding women to unrealistic expectations everywhere else in their lives, it's unlikely the balance of power will change and we will have the same debate the next time a case like this hits the headlines again.


*A Twitter commenter reminds me that I  "forgot the everyday more likely set-up scenario" and that DSK was framed. I have no idea how one conveys weariness with conspiracy theories in writing, but in real life I simultaneously sniggered, rolled my eyes and sighed...

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