This blog has been updated.
To begin, IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn is only accused of a crime. He has not been tried or found guilty. Some people are even suggesting it was all part of a setup by Nicolas Sarkozy to mar his presidential chances. However, the case remains: Strauss-Kahn sits in Rikers Island prison, accused of committing grievous sex acts.
French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, in his defense of Strauss-Kahn, commits the sad and all too common error of assigning blame to the woman. In only his third paragraph, in a two page essay, he writes:
I do not know—but, on the other hand, it would be nice to know, and without delay—how a chambermaid could have walked in alone, contrary to the habitual practice of most of New York’s grand hotels of sending a “cleaning brigade” of two people, into the room of one of the most closely watched figures on the planet.
The French philosopher seems to suggest the possibility that the chambermaid made a mistake by going to the hotel room alone. What a quick attempt to cast suspicion on a possible rape victim. Although he vehemently cautions people from jumping to conclusions about his friend Strauss-Kahn, he questions her decision making without a second thought.
The damage is not just to the chambermaid. According to Department of Justice statistics, an estimated six out of 10 rape charges are never reported to police, and Scott Berkowitz, the president of RAINN, a Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, said in a phone interview that the criticism of rape victims following a report is often a major deterrent for victims.
Levy does not stop there. Later he calls into question another woman, Tristane Banon, who stepped forward with allegations that Strauss-Kahn attacked her. Levy writes:
I hold it against all those who complacently accept the account of this other young woman, this one French, who pretends to have been the victim of the same kind of attempted rape, who has shut up for eight years but, sensing the golden opportunity, whips out her old dossier and comes to flog it on television.
However, after a high profile rape case, women are actually more encouraged to report past incidents of sexual abuse. Berkowitz said that calls to national hotlines increase after a big news story about a rape allegation. It wouldn’t be unlikely for past victims to step forward. “I cannot speak to his guilt or innocence,” Berkowitz said. “Data tells us that rapist tend to be serial criminals.”
The Atlantic has compiled a list of questionable European headlines that follow a similar arc of argument as Levy, such as “Strauss-Kahn, a career threatened by women.” Another article argues that Americans treat men who have affairs harshly, such as Tiger Woods and Bill Clinton. Clinton and Woods, though perhaps not the best role models for marriage, were never held in prison on accusations of rape.
It is a classic move of defense lawyers to pin the blame on the accuser in a rape case. It’s a shame Levy chose the same tactic on a news site.
Update: An earlier version of this post stated that the headline “Strauss-Kahn, a career threatend by women” came from a French paper. It came from an Italian newspaper. I am sorry for the mistake.