He Said, She Said

Oh, what a theatrical web the political world weaves. I haven’t seen this much drama since my freshman year in high school when various gangs of prepubescent angsty teenagers regularly pitted themselves against each other.

The most recently exhausted political scandal of late is the case revolving around Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who is currently being accused of sexually assaulting a New York hotel maid. While I was en route to Quest Diagnostics this morning getting three to four vials of blood sucked from my veins (and because vampires weren’t involved it was definitely not a thrilling experience) I heard on the radio that the hotel maid’s credibility is being called into question because of (and I quote) “the alleged victim’s background that could damage her credibility on the witness stand.”

I’m all for justice. If this woman lied about her sexual encounter with Strauss-Kahn, I think that’s a pretty shameful attempt at publicity and/or wealth (or whatever the reason). Falsely accusing anyone of anything is pretty low, and a lot of innocent people are still in jail because of that undoubtedly capitalist-driven judicial trend.

But there are more consequences at play here than meets the eye. My concern lies with the millions of women raped and assaulted on a daily basis who are too afraid to call on our legal system to help them because they risk having their credibility called into question. Here’s where arguments such as “she was wearing a short skirt that day…it’s her fault” or “she has a history of having lots of sex with lots of different people” crop up. They blur the line between women illustrating (if at all) enjoyment of sexual intercourse and women asking for sexual abuse, which are obviously not the same thing but are often considered to be (for reasons I can absolutely analyze from a psychoanalytic standpoint if any of you are interested) inseparable.

Precedent is typically a positive thing in terms of civil jurisprudence. Precedent usually bulks up a case in order to justify the defendant’s position. But in sexual abuse cases, it’s worth asking what precedent hopes to accomplish. All it does, at least in the Strauss-Kahn case, is aim to discredit the defendant rather than support her. It takes away from the victim’s case rather than adding to it. And that, I think, is a crucial indication of the nature of American (perhaps even global) law. Even, it could certainly be argued, an indication of a society that seeks to disenfranchise women in many ways.

What I’m saying here is vaguely depressing, maybe, but certainly nothing new. As we flip our burgers, pump those super soakers, sip on Blue Moon and blast Kid Rock at various Fourth of July parties this weekend, it’s worth also chewing on this food for thought- as Americans what as a nation (indeed, what as human beings) are we celebrating?