Many French have leapt to defend former IMF chief Dominique
Strauss-Kahn after his arrest for allegedly raping a hotel maid in
NYC. This rush to defend powerful men accused of sexual violence
isn't uniquely French. It's a symptom of the deep-seated misogyny
that exists around the globe.
This week's arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the
International Monetary Fund, on charges that he sexually assaulted a
maid at a chic Manhattan hotel, has led prominent figures in France
to dismiss the victim's allegations as "impossible" or even a
political "set-up." But neither they nor we should be surprised that
politically powerful and respected men are capable of acts of sexual
violence against women.
Just last December, an Israeli court convicted Moshe Katsav, the
former president of Israel, for raping a woman while still in
office. When the accusations first came to light, Vladimir Putin,
then-president of Russia, caused a minor scandal by calling Mr.
Katsav a "mighty man" and joking that "we all envy him."
Making light of claims of violence against women is nothing new.
Nor is blaming female victims for the violence they suffer at the
hands of men, which remains the norm across the globe.
A history of dismissing victims
In 2005, Jacob Zuma, then a rising star in the political
firmament of the African National Congress, was put on trial for
having raped a young AIDS activist. Mr. Zuma, who was acquitted, is
now the president of South Africa. But many South Africans believe
that Zuma was given a pass by the courts, and women's rights
activists at the time rightly faulted Zuma's attorney for putting
his accuser on trial for her past sexual behavior.
Here in the US, our own culture never seems to tire of the
pornographic myth of "Girls Gone Wild" - that girls and young women
"ask" to be sexually abused and objectified. Yet nowhere in our
lexicon do we have an expression for "men gone wild," to describe
the pervasive abuse of women and girls by men. When a woman claims
to have been attacked by a powerful man, her accusations instead are
typically met with public skepticism.
In February 1999, business owner Juanita Broaddrick gave a heart-
wrenching account on NBC's "Dateline" of how then-President Bill
Clinton had allegedly raped her in a hotel room in 1978, during
Clinton's first campaign for governor of Arkansas. Soon after the
show aired, a CNN poll found that most of those surveyed did not
believe Ms. Broaddrick's account, and two thirds wanted the media to
drop the story altogether.
A similar public skepticism has greeted Mr. Strauss-Kahn's arrest
back in his native France, where Jean-Marie Le Guen, a Socialist
member of parliament, described the maid's accusations against
Strauss-Kahn as "not credible" and claimed that the IMF head's
behavior may have involved "seduction" but certainly not "constraint
Symptom of deep-seated misogyny
In reality, the criminal behavior Strauss-Kahn is charged with is
all too believable. …