This blog was featured on 09/01/2016
Keeping Silent about Rape

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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  • Judith van Praag

    Good piece. The times they are a changing, and then again not at all. I sure hope the experience you relate here is not the reason why why you post under a pseudonym on a platform where women ought to feel safe enough to use their own names.

  • pia savage

    This is a post I wrote going on six years ago.  I was acquaintance raped in high school in 1968

  • Evelyn Block

    Joe Brooks was another guy who too often got away with it.


  • Marcia Fine

    Bravo! I think it's time for women to speak out on all levels of discrimination. We've been silent too long and young women don't realize the rights that are sliding away from them. We've given the French a pass for so long b/c they're romantic/sexy/charming. There are no excuses when a woman says no. And, what if you had become pregnant? Was it legal to terminate a pregnancy? My friend's daughter did after a date rape. Legislation has been passed in all 50 states to limit a woman's right to choose.

  • Tami Lynn Kent

    Have to speak up again as I'm raising 3 sons. I just wrote an article that will be in the next issue of Hip Mama called "If We Want Men Who Rock Our World We Need to Start Seeing Our Boys."

    Raising boys I see how essential early connection and intimacy is for boys. I'm teaching them to have a deep respect for the female body by what I say but also by showing them how I love my own body. And then boys have so many emotional needs that are often still unfulfilled today. So much goes awry for the emotional well-being of boys without a solid loving person who can see them (this is the feminine ability to see).

    With my sons, their vibrance and beauty is present and increasingly expressed in their compassion with others because they've been witnessed so fully. May it be so for all boys who will become the next generation of men. 

    Here's a similar wild feminine blog post about this topic.

  • Lea Grover

    Beverly- I'm slutwalking (with my daughters- 20 month twins) in Chicago on June 4!  Go you!

  • Beverly Diehl

    Sorry for jumping in here again, but I was very moved by this article from the GoodMen Project.  (Yes, I'm SlutWalking on June 4 in LA.)

  • Colleen Hannegan

    Anytime I see RAPE in a headline, I cringe...for my own memory, for the girl/woman in the story. It is anger, so deeply inbedded in a man that causes him to find the weaker prey. Reading the comments here, especially Susan Wyler teaching such important lessons to her son. This is how we change the world ...teaching our young men and young women how to respect one another at a very early age. Each time we teach; we save..another young woman from being used, abused and another young man from making the wrong decisions. I feel this story needed to be a powerful one, showing a powerful man's hate and injury towards this woman so we all pay attention once more, to speak out  and scream out so loudly around the worls that this society will stop covering up for anyone, the horror to our society that is the act of rape.

  • Lea Grover

    If I may, a very relevant poem I wrote last year:


    Family History
    She was 12
    in her uncles house
    and in those days
    what was done was done
    and was nobody's business
    in a man's house.
    She grew up and she raised daughters
    and never told them
    that in those days
    what was done had been done
    and it's done now
    and he died and it was done.
    But she never told them,
    not directly,
    and that was the lesson.
    So when the daughter was 14
    what was done was done
    and it was not the same
    but it was the same
    and it was nobody's business.
    And she never told her mother,
    not directly,
    because that was the lesson.
    And she grew up.
    And had daughters.

  • Cara Lopez Lee

    Thank you for bravely sharing this important story. My great-grandmother was raped by my great-grandfather nearly 90 years ago, when she was no more than 14... though it may have started when she was younger. The aggressor was her sister's husband, a man more than twice her age. He financially supported her entire family, so no one spoke up. The girl, once vivacious, became quiet and withdrawn. She gave birth to my grandmother at 15, and died of tuberculosis at 17. My grandmother was treated as an unwelcome embarrassment by both sides of the family.

    When I briefly mentioned the rape in my memoir, one of my great-grandfather's youngest daughters warned me, "You won't be making any friends in the family." I couldn't blame her for being upset; she'd only known her father as a kindly old man. She said I couldn't prove the sex wasn't consensual. However, there were statutory rape laws even then, she was 14, and he had financial power over her: of course it was rape. Her resulting depression, observed by her entire family, was a sad testament to her victimization.


    I cried when I realized I was the first person to speak up for this girl. She's dead now, but she was a living human once... and she was not the only victim. My grandmother's was treated like the daughter of a "whore." As a result, she became a cold, dysfunctional parent to her son, who became a dysfunctional parent to me. One act of violence can affect so many. The code of silence around rape ruins lives. It's past time to end it. 

  • Jeanette Hill

    Thank you! Every brick that we can knock down on the wall of silence and shame that is invisibly attached to rape brings us one step closer to pulling the mask off of these crimes. People must realize that every time a person is raped (unless she or he can find a place of peace and safety,) a part them dies. Rapists and their victims  transcend race, age, marital status, religion or any other tags  associated with it to make it more impersonal.

  • Donna Porter

    I wondered how this man could be head of the IMF with his history. This sheds some light on it but I hold others outside of France accountable too in regard to their apathy regarding his character and judgement. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Teri Coyne

    What is so startling to me is to read the statistics and realize that even if you are not a rape survivor someone you know is...and they do not speak about it.   As much as we need women to tell their truths, we also need to give witness to their stories and listen with open hearts and minds.   The more we can do that, the easier it will get for all of us to share the reality of our lives.

    Great post and comments!

  • Laura Levitt

    I suspect that for a lot of us who are even willing to identify our rapists the chances of them ever being caught is so slight that that too produces another kind of void. Having written a great deal about my own rape twenty years ago in Atlanta, I can only say that even speaking out, putting your name in the paper, telling people does not necessarily undercut the various kinds of silences that still animate public discourse around rape.

    I do wish things were different. And, in this case, I hope that the the rich and powerful accused does not yet again get the final word.

  • Maery Rose

    I was raped by my husband. I figured if a wife claimed she was raped by her husband, she would just be blamed for "holding out" and not doing her duty, even though there is a law against spousal rape. I did get an order for protection but during that trial his attorney asked if my husband had a knife or gun, when I said no, I was told I could have gotten away. The judge intervened that my husband was a great deal bigger and stronger than I was. Anyway, after that experience when I was encouraged to press charges by the police, I didn't because he was my son's father. How could I put him in jail? But I almost lost custody because I was depressed and my husband had them convinced I had imagined the attacks because I was an incest victim (I was not). In response to my description of forced oral sex, the child psychologist reported that it "wasn't clear that rape had occurred". It's a very tough crime to report when you are met with those kinds of attitudes.

  • Laurel T

    Finally!  I'm so tired of rape victims being swept under the rug because their attackers are famous or prized school athletes. I hope this woman gets the justice she deserves.

  • Amy Wallen

    Brava!  I believe the best way to make a change is to start supporting our girlfriends.  To believe their stories, to let them know there is no shame involved, and that we will be there with them through what ever path they choose to take to set things right.

  • Tami Lynn Kent

    Yes--so essential to break the code of silence for ourselves as women. At 19 years old I worked at a bar and dealt with verbal sexual harassment from the bar's owner (who could have been my father) for several months. One day he took the top of my blouse and pulled it open so that he could see my breasts. I was stunned and left, never to return to the job. But the most shocking thing is that I didn't know that I had rights, that this was a violation that was his to own, rather than something I had somehow invited. Stinging with the sense of assault, but with no voice to counter it, I never reported it. I remember the outrage of my roommate, who found me in tears. She said, "My dad's a lawyer. Let's call him right now. We'll show your boss that he can't do that to you." I shook my head "no" for I had learned to keep quiet. But I remembered her outrage, and a seed was planted. Perhaps I should be outraged too? It took many years but eventually I did find and feel my rage.

    Now, in the work I do as a women's health physical therapist, I have worked with many women who have been violated or raped to help them find wholeness and healing in their centers: to unlock the fear and the rage, to clear the shame and remember the beauty. The book I wrote for women, Wild Feminine: Finding Power, Spirit & Joy in the Female Body, is part of this healing movement too–of acknowledging wounds, of speaking up, of healing and standing in our power as women.


    Thank you Sarah for sharing this personal story and also for reflecting on the face of your attacker, who looked as scared as you. Such a beautiful truth. May we all find healing & wholeness.

  • Beverly Diehl

    I picked my rapist out of a lineup, yet in retrospect... did I?  Later, I was not sure I picked the right guy, after all.  I was young, confused, scared - and my rapist, too, was young and scared.  Like many rapists, he did not have a full erection, because RAPE IS ABOUT POWER, NOT ABOUT SEX.  (I know, we say it over and over again, but there is still that misconception out there.)  He raped me when he came to rob my apartment, was surprised to find me at home, and I think he thought he was "supposed to."


    I probably could have "taken" him in a fight, but I sensed he didn't really want to hurt me, and if I tried to fight back, that big knife in his hand could have hurt me.

    IMO, when it comes to a rape or mugging situation... we all do the best we can at the time.  Not gonna beat myself up that I didn't do "better," because perhaps I could have, and perhaps things might have turned out much, much worse.  I do believe that speaking out about rape and injustice is imperative, if we ever want to live in a society where people treat one another with dignity, kindness and respect.  I for one, want to move closer to that ideal, even if it doesn't happen in my lifetime.

  • Jimmie Berg

    I did not keep silent about a physical attack and almost rape when I was twelve years old. My aunt's husband - cannot call the man an uncle because he was a vile abuser and molester - attempted to molest me and I escaped by climbing out a window.


    Now, I am 66 and just last year learned that my aunt and her daughters - 3 of whom were 3, 4 and 5, the time of the attack - have hated me all these years because they claim that I lied about it. This is a man who periodically threw his family out of the house, beat my aunt and verbally abused everyone around him. During the summer that this event occurred, this man threw us all out during the night on many occasions, threw me out a car in the night while on the road from Utah to Lake Mead, NV. He took my shoes and threw them away, threatened to kill me if I ever told anyone about how he behaved, etc. In grocery stores he would sidle up next to me, point out a particular brand of feminine napkin and ask me if that was the brand I used. I was 12!


    Now I am barred from family because I am the "liar"?


    I would tell again - I really don't feel the need to call people "family" who would rather I have allowed his abuse, as they did until his death in his 80's!

  • Thank you so much for writing this post to bring attention to this topic and also thank you to commenters who are willing to share their stories.  There is a worthy organization, End Violence Against Women International, whose goal is to change the way the world responds to sexual violence.  You can find more information about EVAW on the web at

  • This is a wonderful start to a conversation that is long past due.  I wonder what else we are keeping silent about, and what that silence costs us.  Who among us will talk about rape within a marriage, thoughts of suicide, being grateful that you had an abortion or other topics that we are ashamed to speak into consciousness.  I await the day that we will feel powerful enough to speak our truth and know that it will be all right because we will make it all right!

  • Holly Hughes

    I too shared my story of rape years ago with the voices and Faces Project. It's a sad statement to admit that I didn't even realize I was raped at first, I was 15, had no sexual experience and my friend had introduced me to the guy, he didn't hold a knife or gun to my head but I never had a choice in the matter either. It took me 15 years to fully understand that I was raped. I kept the secret trying to protect the ones I loved from the horrible news but didn't do much to help myself. Silence is a tragedy. Please speak up!

  • Sarah -- thank you so much for writing about this.  It is such a difficult subject.  The other night, I found myself in conversation with a friend, a French citizen living in New York, who told me that she and other French expatriates were very upset about what's happened because they find it "humiliating."  I found this comment disturbing.  Humiliated because they covered it up for so long?  Or humiliated by the American media's treatment of a "prominent man" from France?  I got the feeling it was the latter, and frankly, it disgusted me. Thank god the chambermaid was not aware what a powerful man DSK was before she reported what had happened.  She protected, defended and valued herself equally to him, one human being to another, and she should.  A system that suggests anything less is complicit, and should not be tolerated.  

    By the same token, I would say that your silence about your perpetrator all those years ago (something you cannot blame yourself for, but are right to reexamine) was indeed a mirror image of this notion of some people being outside the society, and some being in, as you describe.  He deserved better from you in a very strange way.  He deserved to be considered capable of existing in the society we all want to live in, and obeying its laws.  He deserved to be assumed, just as you likely would have held a white man to be, accountable for his actions.  

    Now on to the issue of addressing the gross inequalities and outrageous unfairness of a world where 50% of black men in New York can be unemployed and nobody is calling it a national crisis...

    It all just hurts sometimes, doesn't it.

  • Jane Baskin

    Congratulations to you and blessings upon you for bringing up this subject. Rape is still so shame-filled that many victims still don't want to report it. 

    But let me say this: people do things because they can. Men have been getting away with rape for all time. Especially if the perpetrator is someone famous, speaking out costs him a shame price. I also believe it should cost him money. Certainly the IMF chief can afford a bundle and I hope the poor hotel maid winds up no longer poor. Not because I believe in hustling money, but because I believe it should hurt, one way or another, to be an abuser of women.

    In jail, rapists are heroes. This will stop only when we speak out and show them for the bastards they are. Women who are raped should speak out, and men who rape should clean public toilets for years. They should be branded as abnormal freaks who need to take out their aggression on easy targets, on people who can't fight back for the most part, rather than in the boxing ring or the fight gym, like real men.

    I know this sounds angry. I am not ashamed of my anger; I too am a rape victim. This is one time when rage is justified, perhaps even useful. If it ever, God forbid, happens to me again, I will react like an animal. A man on top of you has exposed his throat, and we all have teeth.

    If women were more dangerous, they might not get hurt as much.