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Keeping Silent about Rape
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French Journalists’ Silence on IMF's Strauss-Kahn Reminds Sarah Glazer of Her Own Complicity

It’s an odd feeling to spend a month writing an article about the something as dry as the European currency union only to have it sensationalized the day of publication by an international sex scandal.

“But what does it mean for Greece?” my editors queried, as the news was breaking of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest for attempted rape.

I have no idea. Just when I should be thinking about the perils of default for a poor struggling country, I find myself flashing back to my own struggle beneath a heavy man on a dark, deserted field in Chicago.

It’s now coming to light that Strauss-Kahn had a history of sexual misdeeds that was carefully obscured by French journalists for years. And it almost seems that French society as a whole was complicit.

The BBC reports that the 32-year-old African hotel maid had no idea who DSK was or how prominent he was when she reported the assault—and that she was scared when she learned who he was. But now that she does know, her lawyer insists she will follow through on the charges because she believes it’s the right thing to do.

I did just the opposite of the chambermaid, for opposite reasons, and now I wonder if it was the wrong thing to do.

In 1968, when I arrived as a freshman at the University of Chicago, a white enclave in the middle of a black slum, our orientation week included a lecture by a campus policeman on what to do if we were attacked on the street. “Scream for help! As loud as you can,” he advised.

As a New York City girl, I dismissed these warnings. I was more interested in radical politics and the problems of the black working class.

A year later, a young black man walking towards me on a dark street shoved me off the sidewalk forcing me to lie on the hard ground beneath him. Scream for help, I thought, but the only sound I could muster was a high-pitched squeak from a voice box constricted with terror.  I could feel how overpowered I was as I pummeled away hopelessly at the man’s chest.

But it must have had some effect. Strangely, I suddenly saw a flash of a scared young face, almost as terrified as my own, pull away from me; then he ran down the street.

When I got home that night, my roommate nodded approvingly when I said I would report the incident but wouldn’t try to identify the guy. Just like the French press, our radical circle was complicit in keeping these things quiet.

Even the policeman who asked me if I’d be willing to pick my attacker out of a line-up nodded resignedly when he heard my answer. Maybe he even knew the ideology: Middle-class white girls don’t send poor black men to prison; we remember the terrible history of innocent black men lynched down South on false accusations of raping white women. In my case one value--defying that history--trumped another, testifying about an attempted rape.

Now the power tables are reversed. A poor black woman could send a rich white man to prison.

If she goes through with it, she’ll apparently be braver than all the others—including the French journalist Tristane Banon, who never brought charges, reportedly because she was worried about her career. And, if Strauss-Kahn is guilty, the actions of this maid from a former French colony could put a stop to the attacks, protecting other women.

This story made me ponder the French hierarchy of values-and how vastly it varies from their culture to ours. As early as 2007, a blog by a French journalist warned that Strauss-Kahn, then France’s candidate to head the International Monetary Fund, had a problem: his attitude towards women. “Too heavy-handed, he often verges on harassment. A failing known to the media but about which no one speaks (we are in France). But the IMF is an international institution with Anglo-Saxon values. One gesture out of place … and there will be a media frenzy.”

The author of the blog, Libération journalist Jean Quatremer, says he was accused of “crossing a red line, of violating politicians’ private lives, of stealing into their bedroom—in brief, of behaving like one of those predatory Anglo-Saxon journalists.” Nothing about his blog was repeated in France’s written press, radio or television.

Even though reporters and politicians have swapped stories for years about Strauss-Kahn’s uncontrollable sexual appetite, Quatremer says, such tales were considered the domain of “private life,” so journalists were “paralyzed.”

When I arrived at Chicago, there was a different but equally pernicious hierarchy of values. Women’s Liberation was barely nascent; adherents were regularly mocked at our student radical meetings. Today, in an era when students march on campus to Take Back the Night from date rapists, would young women engage in a similar conspiracy of silence? Apparently they still do in France. But maybe this incident will break the code of silence.

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Comments
  • Gretchen Seefried

    The habit of heads in the sand has a long history...but the only way to end the cycle is to keep yanking them out.

  • Vicki Wharton

    Not provincial at all, just if you aren't in direct contact with police officers and social workers who have been brought up on lads mags and porn, it's difficult to know how these have undermined society's support of victims of gender violence.  Sexism, both fatal, violent and non violent is seen as a joke these days and am not convinced that any of the authorities have really joined up the dots in understanding that the only way people will take sexism seriously is to stop calling sexist violence domestic violence as I am convinced that is the route cause of nearly all violence in the home.  Thanks for the offer, but just dont know how Davina could help with my family's behaviour or the police - I complained to the IPCC and they simply wouldn't entertain my complaint at all.

  • Anand Querying

    Ah, I guess that was poorly phrased, how provincial of me! Thank you.

     

    If ever you feel a need to connect with someone there, contact the Greater London Domestic Violence Project. I am an online acquaintance of Davina James-Henman (GLDVP head) from my years of co-hosting iVillage's old Feminism Today board. I am certain Davina either can help or knows where to get you proper assistance.

  • Vicki Wharton

    London

  • Anand Querying

    Vicki, that is awful. I agree with you on how it is viewed by too many. What region of the country are you in?

  • Vicki Wharton

    I'm not so sure that reporting rape or any sexist attack now doesn't put the victim through a vicious process.  Having faced up to the fact that I was raped, when I told my family they completely turned against me and I have been subject to a vicious process of lying and muck throwing including saying I made false child abuse allegations about my father and step father.  When I reported a partner for gender violence recently, the social services threatened to take my child away if I reported another incident and the police threatened to arrest me as a co perpetrator rather than the fact that I was defending myself.  I don't say this to frighten other people, rather to warn them that whatever the politically correct version of events seems to be now, the reality for the majority of women is that the victim is still shamed and attacked as a way of shutting her up by the whole of society.  Sexist violence is like child abuse - most people would rather it didn't happen and if they can put the victim off from reporting it, they can pretend it doesn't happen.  Rather that than deal with the perpetrator who may get violent and aggressive with them.  Current attitudes are born of cowardice and the fact that the only people who would tackle this issue head on were feminists - and the media portray them as a bunch of gender terrorists rather than women struggling to get rape, sexist violence in the home and child abuse on to male agendas.

  • Anand Querying

    1968...was a time of acute distrust in authority, in an age where, worse than now, a report of rape would put the victim through a vicious process. Given that, and I recognise words cannot alter this, but I will say it... please don't be too hard on yourself for the choice you made. We all grow in life, stronger. I feel a lot of strength coming through your words.

  • Lea Grover

    The conversation in the comments below helped me tremendously in writing this post about the Chicago SlutWalk:  http://becomingsupermommy.blogspot.com/2011/06/it-wasnt-my-fault.html

    Thank you for helping me wrap my head around not only what I feel but what I wanted to say.

  • Vicki Wharton

    So so so sad to hear your experience - and can totally empathise with your feelings of betrayal over being punished for reporting being raped.  Anyone that believes that attitudes to rape has changed over the past 40 years of women's equality has only to read this thread to see how deeply ingrained bigotry against the victim truly is amongst both men and the women that support their right to rape.  Good luck with the media ...

  • Scars R. Stories

    I am finally going public about Simon Fraser University's role in my revictimization.  I felt that here was the perfect place to start, considering the topic!  My ex-fiancé, who raped me twice within one week, anally, while I was sleeping, and then ended the week by chasing after me with a large hammer, at which point I finally phoned the police, who arrested him at once, was a student in the same graduate program as me at Simon Fraser University (Master's in Sociology/Anthropology).  As I said, in an act of revenge, he had my paper discredited and managed to get me charged with academic dishonesty.  Though I am no longer at all interested in pursuing a Master's, I will be taking whatever steps I need to in order to correct my record so that it does reflect honesty.  My paper was completely honest.  I cannot believe that Simon Fraser University would take the word of this man who was just charged with raping me, over me.  What a coincidence, for him to be silent about my supposed fictionalizing of a paper for several months, and then to contact my professor just days after he was released from jail on bail!  However, his supervisor in the sociology/anthropology was my co-supervisor, and he believed my ex, who had been his student for many years (he completed his undergraduate degree there as well, while I completed mine back in Winnipeg, my hometown), over me.  He believed that I was lying about being raped.  This man, my co-supervisor, was married to my supervisor!  The pair of them had a meeting with me after I wrote to them about my plans to drop out, and seemed not to care at all.  All this after I entered the program with a 4.35 GPA, and a SSHRC Master's Grant valued at $17,500 - I accepted SFU's offer even though they did not provide much additional funding, because my supervisor - again, my co-supervisor who was my fiancé's main supervisor and confidante - e-mailed me before I even received an acceptance letter, stating that she was terribly interested in working with me and really wanted me to come to SFU - apparently this is almost unheard of in academia.

    But, when her husband decided to believe his favourite student over me about RAPE, I might as well have been dirt on her shoe.  She showed absolutely no emotion about me leaving, and I was to be the last student she worked with before retirement.  I had done research assistant work for her, and she was incredibly impressed with it, and the speed at which I was able to complete it.  She actually ran out of work to fill the hours that she gave to me in a contract.  All of this was meaningless after I was raped, and, not at all surprisingly, my fellow student denied what he did.  She had previously promised to supervise a readings course for me, and took back her promise, saying that she was "too busy" (to mark one paper based on self-directed readings???), making it impossible for me to graduate, as I would not have enough credits - the department offered no elective classes and I was exempted from a theory course because the work I had done during my undergrad degree was so advanced.

    I cannot believe that this happened in a department of sociology at a Canadian University.  It seemed rather that I was being punished under Sha'riah law!

    So, that's the complete truth about my story.  Simon Fraser University is responsible for the destruction of my academic career because they took the words of my rapist, acting out in revenge, over mine.

    Shame on Simon Fraser University.  I will be going to the media about this soon.  If anyone sees me and would like to help get this information into a newspaper or magazine, please contact me by e-mail ([email protected])

     

    Best Wishes Ladies!

    Jen (a.k.a. scarsarestories)

    http://www.practiceofmadness.com

  • Vicki Wharton

    Big hug all the way from London Diana - from one survivor to another

  • Diana Barnes

    I am furious that this man because of his power and status can feel that he may take anything from any woman because, and even more angry with France for accepting his actions as a 'boys will be boys' attitude. As for suggesting that the act was consensual-how dare he? Does he think he can just 'wink' this one away?

    As for complicity, i too have had a code of silence so to speak. IN high school, i was date raped (thisis so hard to write in public) by a boyfriend-- who kept insisting it was my fault because i fought him. this continued for two years, until i found a way to escape, by moving to France for a year and losing all contact with him. I was afraid to tell my parents, friends or anyone because i felt it was my fault. When i returned, he showed up unexpectedly - and attacked me, dragging me off to an apartment where i really thought i was going to die--  I was afraid to go to the police ( he actually had a friend on the police force)-- and i had nowhere else to hide. Finally i got brave enough to go and talk to his friend at the station- who told me he had been arrested for rape at Stanford ( apparently his 2nd or 3rd conviction) and was finally being put away at a state mental prison for 5 years.

    I never told anyone else, and the officer did not suggest I file a report. i was terrified, but relieved he was gone. I have never seen him since-- but i felt i had to hide my phone, my address and my school addresses for the next 10 years.

    It has taken years to get over the 'looking over my shoulder' fear-- but i can't say i feel entirely comfortable with guys unless in a public place, or have friends around until i feel safe.

    so yes, i bought the 'you caused it' and kept quiet. i still think in some way i was complicit--even though i was young and afraid.

    i eventually started to see a therapist after i got panic /anxiety disorder-- the therapist encouraged me to tell my parents--- which was a mistake, because my mom told me that because I now had birth control pills ( i was 23!!) i had practically invited it to happen.....at 17....? it's taken 20 years for all that panic to be put behind me...

    I am so proud of this hotel  housekeeper for bringing the light to this issue-- and i hope she has the love and support of everyone around her-- and knows she has support from her amercian counterparts--because she is in the center of the malestrom-- a place i feared to be.

    love the ideas

     

  • Angel Graham

    Thank you Sarah. For sharing.

  • Sarah, thank you for this important piece of writing.

    I, too, went to the University of Chicago and understand the environment and issues of identity. My upbringing was not at all privileged. As a result, I felt different from other UofC students, but the message of what I represented as a white student on the South Side was clear (though I attended later than you). 

    Issues of rape, as already mentioned here, relate to the legal definition that requires physical force and "the act," which reflect a man's perspective. If women had more of a say in the definition, it would include intimidation and manipulation, in addition to any form of physical assault, to address the more subtle aspects from a woman's point of view, I think. And so many people view it as being a sex act. It is NOT about sex. It is about power and fear and cruelty.

  • Beverly Diehl

    Still pondering thoughts there: Still pondering thoughts about rape On Rape, Slut-Shaming, and the Illusion of Control.  About how one of the incentives for victim-blaming is then we can feel safe - if someone did something that caused the rape, then all we have to do is NOT dress that way, walk that way, etc., and we can believe it won't happen to us.

  • Scars R. Stories

    On the topic of men that have been raped:

     

    I know that generally men have a very difficult time talking about being abused, but the last man I dated (I am queer - I've always considered myself bisexual, but I've finally come out as a lesbian, so he will be the last man I ever dated!  He helped me realize that I've only been physically attracted to women before, despite having several long-term relationships with men...I've never enjoyed sex with them, and only one was able to bring me to a climax.  He in particularly helped me, as he wasn't incredibly bright.  The other men were all exceptionally smart, and it was their minds that I fell in love with.  The reason I got into a relationship with this last fellow - which I very much regret - is because he is in a business on the fringes of legality where he makes a ton of cash, and he immediately offered to buy me clothes and things that I could not afford.  This was very tempting, as a few months before meeting him, I had all of my clothing stolen by a scam artist - I ended up feeling like such a whore, though, that when I broke up with him I paid him back with the little bit of savings I had amassed - so the whole thing was a royal waste of my time, and just ended up making me feel like crap about myself...aside from the realization about my sexuality, which is quite wonderful.  I'm going way off topic here, but another altogether could be the way that we, women, feel that our sexuality is not sacred, and may be "used" after being raped - we have been shown a lack of respect for our bodies, and we end up showing the same lack of respect to ourselves...a sad state of affairs, indeed!) ANYHOW...let me begin again!

     

    This last man that I dated had been raped by a step-sibling in his twenties when he was 11-13.  He actually, unlike other men I've known that were abused, talked about it quite frequently and openly.  I spent most of my time with him in groups, enjoying the company of his friends more than being with him one on one (I know this sounds awful!  It's the only time I've done such a thing - I know that men have just as many feelings as women do and they're not to be toyed with...I was feeling very desperate, and quite down on myself at the time - still no excuse!).  I noticed that his friends showed signs of feeling very uncomfortable when he brought the topic up, though I don't think the fellow, himself, did.

    Here is the major difference that I observed between speaking with women about sexual violence and the discussion that took place between the men: whereas women talk about the emotional damage done to their selves as a result of being subject to sexual abuse, men talk about violent fantasies about what they would like to do to their abusers to get even.  The man I dated brought up this period in his life often, and when he did, the rage that was physically visible not only in his face but in his entire body, as it tensed up and his hands became fists.  The conversation always ended in a description of things I don't feel comfortable repeating that he wanted to do to _____, now that he was "a man" and of equal physical strength, if not more, than the man that abused him as a child.

     

    I wonder if the reason why he did bring up being raped so often was just an excuse to show off his physical strength, and strike fear into people, especially considering the line of work he was in (I'll be frank - he sold pot - though he considered himself a "gangsta" equal to a Tony Soprano type, dressed in a suit and tie everyday, always carried a roll of at least $1000 in his pocket, etc.).  Thus, I wonder if it was healthy at all, or actually detrimental to his own healing, to constantly be bringing the topic up.  What do you all think?

     

    One more thing really bothered me - we had kind of bonded over the shared experience of being rape survivors, and because of what happened to him he was not at all interested in anal sex, which suited me just fine!! (LOL - it seems that this has become the new question that a fellow asks a gal once they've been in a relationship for, say, a month or so - "can we do it that way??" hahaha) - is that he talked about how when he found out that an ex had cheated on him, he "knew that he doing her rough" that night, on purpose...he got this look in his eye as he mimicked what he did to her, using his hands to imitate holding her behind.  This signalled the beginning of the end!!  I'm wondering if because of what happened to him, if he saw sexual mistreatment as a "way to punish someone", so to speak...and so the cycle of abuse continues.  Do you think the fact that he was so in touch with what had happened to him - i.e. he certainly hadn't blocked it from his memory - made it easier for him to use this as a weapon in his own collection, to be pulled out when he felt "wronged" by a woman?

     

    Finally, M. Eileen - I can relate so much to what you describe re: word choice and euphemism.  I also tend to use the term "sexually assaulted" instead of "raped" when describing my exeriences with this particualr type of abuse.  It wasn't until a girlfriend of mine said, "...so he raped you?" (referring to one of my exes) that I even realized how hard it was for me to spit out the word, rape  

    Since then, I've been trying to use the word "rape" more often, just as long before this, I try very hard to refer to individuals in prison as "prisoners", rather than inmates, for example...there are many more examples re: war, a subject around which it seems there are soooo many "nicer ways of putting things" used by politicians, the press, and all of us.  It is incredibly important to me not to wash over the truth of the matter by using language that hides just how serious, and seriously cruel, things really are in a given situation.  I did not realize that I myself was doing this by calling my own rape "sexual assault" until that friend said that!  I was quite shocked, I must say, as I certainly was not trying to do this, it's just like, as you say, "rape" is a damn ugly word, but it's an even uglier act.  Your comment serves as a reminder to make sure I do use the word "rape".

    Cheers!

  • The more we all talk about it and across as many genres as possible the more it will be ok for women to come out of the circle of quiet and shame that rape imposes. It takes as long as it takes to grow up the self that was arrested under that kind of trauma, but writing is one powerful way to "grow up" our collective consciousness by putting the material under everyone's eyes. So thank you for your post.

    My own tangential comments about rape / tarot/ omens / helpers from a post on Feral Mom, Feral Writer: http://poetrymom.blogspot.com/search?q=tarot.

  • Jeanette Hill

    One of the most heartbreaking things I hear about the stories of rapes that happened more than a few months ago- even from women is "That happened past, you ought to be over it by now. Grow up!" Rape is a violent act that impacts the victim not only physically but emotionally and mentally...it is not a broken doll or a stolen bicycle. Those things can be replaced. You can't be 'un'-raped.

  • Suddenly rape events are in the news, but they have always been there - those "events" which occur in one out of three womens' lives!   As a poet I have highlighted rape in poetry on my blog  lifestooshortnotto.net. The last two posts have presented my own "event" in poetry as well as work by other poets  on the topic of rape, date rape, consequences of rape -- still all too prevalent in our American culture as well as many other cultures...

    When and How might we change that?

  • Beverly Diehl

    The reason I use sexual assault (in some places) is the legal definition of rape has to do with penetration.  If you are assaulted - if someone "feels you up," puts their mouth all over you, masturbates against you, etc., even if they do so by force, legally it's not rape.  Doesn't mean you feel any better about it, but we have to understand that there is the emotional aspect of being raped, and the legal one.  (And, IMO, work to broaden the legal definition.)  It's not Really Rape If...

     

    Ms. Magazine is promoting a campaign to change the FBI's definition of rape, which is 80+ years old and only includes forcible rape.  This leads to a vast undercounting of rape cases by that definition, since a rape in which the victim has been drugged and is unconscious is not "forcible.  Rape is Rape.

  • Vicki Wharton

    I have to go out now Eileen but will keep an eye out for you on this site and leave you with this thought ... my daughter will be taking judo from next year - so that any pain that is experienced in her life at the hands of sexist bullies will be theirs, not hers!!

  • Vicki Wharton

    Thank you for your sympathy - and likewise for you too it's been a tough process.  Still, here we are, bloodied but unbowed.  I have a four year old daughter, Matilda, and I use everything I went through to protect her and teach her about the world out there.  How to spot the good from the bad people, and how to keep herself safe whilst being able to stretch her wings as far as they will take her.  It's not a solution for us, but it may be for her.

  • Vicki Wharton

    Eileen, Like you, my family turned against me when I talked about male violence in my family and with my partner at the time (I left him) and have even accused me of making false accusations of child abuse against my father in order to discredit what I have said about his lying and emotional manipulation.  For me, living in the UK feels a lot like living in South Africa or the early years of Nazi Germany - where my grandmother lived before leaving in 1936.  There is really hideous discrimination and treatment of women and children going on all around, but the State, the police, the judiciary and the media do not want to publicise it, as these institutions are largely run by men and it is largely men that are the abusers.  Their egos cannot balance their feeling that they are superior to women and children and reconcile it with the reality that this is the way a large number of men behave.  The fact we have 1 in 3 girls assaulted in school and 1 in 3 women hit by a partner is not the actions of a handful of men but rather a large part of the male population.

  • Beverly Diehl

    Posted today on It's Not Really Rape If... Busting the Myths.  Please continue the discussion there, or here, and feel free to pass along.

  • Vicki Wharton

    I was raped twice before I was even 16.  I didn't tell my mother as I knew I would be held responsible.  Later, when two partners hit me and I left them, I was put under pressure to accept the line that I was a co perpetrator, that I hadn't hit them back in self defence but as an aggressor.  It was only when I pointed out that the physical evidence didn't match my partners version of the story that the police backed off threatening to arrest me.  I tried to complain to the police but they wouldn't record my complaint on the phone nor when I waited for 4 hours in the police station.  Later when I complained to the IPCC they upheld the police, saying that I hadn't complained within the time limit, even though I had phoned and visited the police station within the time limit.  The regular use of violent on line pornography with its storylines that women and children are always complicit in the abuse of themselves is defining the way men treat abused women particularly.  With the use of on line pornography ubiqitous amongst boys from the age of 7 upwards, they are unable to recognise when they are abusing a female, or the male culture they are immersed in defines it as funny.  And these men are now running the judiciary, the police force and Government - hence Ken Clarke's male view of rape.  No wonder only 1 in 10 rapes are even reported now, and 45% of those are no crimed by the police if the victim withdraws her statement.  And why wouldn't you if the police are filled with faux concern about how hard this will be on you and the perpetrator and his friends and possibly your own family just want you to brush the whole thing under the carpet and will put you under considerable pressure to do so?