"Dominique Strauss-Kahn may have more to worry about than a possible prison sentence." That was the first sentence in an article in the New York Post today about the IMF Chief accused of sexually attacking a woman in a New York City hotel. The article then proceeds to "out" the alleged victim for living in an apartment building for people and families living with HIV/AIDS. This type of coverage does nothing to help hold an alleged rapist accountable and only contributes to victim-shaming and stigmatizing people living with HIV/AIDS - With no respect for the accuser’s medical confidentiality or the confidentiality of the residents in that building. Further, they repeatedly refer to her as maid, rather than a victim, and highlight her immigration status and race. The New York Post should be ashamed for framing their coverage of sexual assault about concerns for an alleged attacker, rather than the impact of a violent sexual assault on a woman at her place of work. They also printed this quote:
"One high-powered lawyer, who was amont those trying to reach her to offer to rep her, said 'She could make $6 million, maybe more, just by shutting her mouth."
As heinous as the NY Post’s piece was, they’re not the only ones who are guilty of harmful coverage. The Daily Beast ran this commentary by Bernard-Henri Levy in which he questioned the alleged victim's legitimacy:
"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."
If that wasn’t bad enough, The American Spectator published this despicable piece by Ben Stein yesterday, in which he ranted:
"The prosecutors say that Mr. Strauss-Kahn 'forced' the complainant to have oral and other sex with him. How? Did he have a gun? Did he have a knife? He's a short fat old man. They were in a hotel with people passing by the room constantly, if it's anything like the many hotels I am in. How did he intimidate her in that situation? And if he was so intimidating, why did she immediately feel un-intimidated enough to alert the authorities as to her story?
People accuse other people of crimes all of the time. What do we know about the complainant besides that she is a hotel maid? I love and admire hotel maids. They have incredibly hard jobs and they do them uncomplainingly. I am sure she is a fine woman. On the other hand, I have had hotel maids that were complete lunatics, stealing airline tickets from me, stealing money from me, throwing away important papers, stealing medications from me. How do we know that this woman's word was good enough to put Mr. Strauss-Kahn straight into a horrific jail?"
After all this media coverage, all women (and men) may have more to worry about than the possibility that an international leader is guilty of sexual assault. This type of coverage reinforces the power structures that legitimize sexism and rape, and works directly against the elimination of sexual violence in our culture. In a country where a woman is sexually assaulted every two minutes, such pieces do real harm.Tell the NY Post, the Daily Beast, and the American Spectator that media have a responsibility to work towards the elimination of rape culture and sexism – Not to legitimize it!
Such pieces reinforce the power structures that legitimize sexism and rape in a country where every two minutes, a woman is sexually assaulted.
Media have a responsibility to cover such serious issues fairly, instead of contribute to a culture in which sexual violence is a daily reality.