One in Four…

Raising awareness about issues related to domestic & dating violence

Power, Privilege and Sexual Assualt June 13, 2011

Former IMF President (he resigned 5/19) Dominique Strauss-Kahn was accused of assaulting a hotel maid in Manhattan.   While Strauss-Kahn has portrayed himself as a victim (complaining about his “unfair” treatment after his arrest) to a woman lying to get attention and money, his record around sexual assault is hardly clean.  Since the assault two weeks ago, another woman Tristane Banon has come forward alleging that Strauss-Kahn assaulted her in 2007 while she attempted to interview him.  She discussed his sexist and disrespectful behavior towards women in the past.  The incident of alleged assault with this New York hotel service worker was not an isolated incident but rather a manifestation of the power and privilege afforded to Strauss-Kahn because of his position in the international community.  The women Strauss-Kahn harassed were inferior to him whether in employment positions or in class or race status.  His assumption that he could have sexual relations with this maid in Manhattan because of her social and class location relative to him is both disturbing and unfair. 

Ms. Magazine wrote had interesting commentary about men in power and their assumptions regarding consent. Author Michael Kimmel discusses both the New York Times and Time Magazine article’s theorizing why powerful men cheat and linking the phenomena of power with perceived consent and willingness of women to engage in sexual activity with men in high profile positions.  Kimmel references the gang rape of a young woman by football recruits at the University of Colorado in 2001.  While the athletes perceived that a majority of women wanted to have sex with them, in reality it was about one percent of women who were actually interested, their celebrity status so distorted their vision that they misconceived the sexual interest of women they encountered  Kimmel states: “This distorted perception goes to the heart of the Strauss-Kahn case. Because of his status, he may well have encountered women who let their availability be known. Just as obviously, he needn’t have acted on it. Being human, men are capable of making choices about when and with whom to unzip their trousers.”    The Strauss-Kahn case illustrates the entitlement that powerful men often feel that they deserve or have access to women because of their status.  While the woman Strauss-Kahn assaulted felt violated and clearly did not agree to any kind of sexual activity with him, it’s possible he perceived it as consensual because of his inflated sense of self worth.  Regardless of what Strauss-Kahn perceived that does not excuse his actions or justify his assault of that woman.

Tiffany Williams, Advocacy Director of the “Break the Chain” campaign, a project of the institute of policy studies in Washington DC focusing on providing social services to domestic workers who are victims of human trafficking or worker exploitation discusses how women in lower status jobs are often exploited by their bosses or clients in higher status positions.  She states  “Women who are household workers or “servants” are even more vulnerable to dehumanizing sexual assault than others because their relationships are inherently unequal to their employers.”  The story of men in privileged, powerful positions like Strauss-Kahn’s taking advantage of women in lower-status occupations is not new news.  Frankly, neither is the victim blaming response that always tends to surface in the media frenzy. (Recall Lara Logan).  This is a tired, perpetually insulting story that women set men up and then “cry rape” to get money from them or being more concerned about how assailants like Strauss-Kahn will “put their lives back together” rather than how victims will heal with and cope from the trauma of assault.

Every victim of abuse of any kind deserves to be supported and believed.  If you or someone you know is feeling unsafe or have been hurt call our hotline at 919-929-7122 to speak with a trained advocate.  Abuse is never a victims fault and they deserve compassion and to be believed.

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