With the recent scandal regarding the credibility of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s alleged victim, a housekeeper who immigrated from Guinea, interesting questions have been raised about what it means to be a “good” victim (of assault).
While some skeptics questioned the validity of the testimony of Strauss-Kahn’s alleged victim from the beginning, journalists seemed sympathetic to her case, for the most part. Perhaps because early reports described the woman as a humble immigrant escaping sexual assault and persecution in her own country, and as a devoutly religious , people felt much more comfortable believing her accusations about Strauss-Kahn. Once it was discovered that she lied in her asylum application regarding the sexual assault in her home country and that she had been untruthful regarding her financial records, she was suddenly seen as less credible. Shortly afterward, the credibility of her story became even more suspect with the possible involvement of a drug dealer boyfriend.
Sadly, these disclosures appeared to considerably weaken her case. Headlines shouted DSK case was “on verge of collapse” and that the lies of the accuser “jeopardize” the case. 2 days later Strauss-Kahn was released from house arrest. Not even 2 weeks later, freedom restored DSK heads to the Berkshires to take in a concert at Tanglewood (Shed seats, not the lawn). How did this case go from airtight to up in the air? Perhaps the public’s perception of who a victim is and how she should be has something to do with it.
Victims who dress promiscuously, have any kind of sexual history, were under the influence of alcohol and drugs, worked in “sex themed” occupations (like stripping or prostitution), or struggle with mental illness are usually viewed as less credible. Women who are non-white, work in a service industry and perhaps poor or disadvantaged in some way are easier to imagine as victims. They don’t look like us and are pretty removed from our world, or so we assure ourselves. These stereotypes of victims can be extremely damaging, however, and not just for the victim.
tereotypes can be even more harmful for sexual assault victims. Many people have very definite ideas about what happens before, during, and after a “real” rape. “Real” rape victims are those who are attacked by a stranger while not under the influence of alcohol or drugs with a past devoid of any sexual history. This myth ignores the very real knowledge that 77% of sexual assaults are committed by non-strangers. ]
When we stereotype someone as a “good” or a “bad” victim, we do an injustice to everyone else who has experienced a similar crime and is trying to heal. As a result, those folks tend to feel less “normal” and even more marginalized than they might. It can also be harder for them to ask for help. This gets further complicated for male or LGBTQ identified victims, doesn’t it? All victims deserve to be believed and supported. As Kenneth Thompson, the attorney for DSK’s alleged victim said, a victim’s past should have no bearing on their status as a current victim of IPV/sexual assault, “The victim here made some mistakes, but that does not mean she is not a rape victim,” he said.
If you want to know more about how to help victims of interpersonal violence, consider volunteering with us. Contact Elizabeth at 919-929-3872, ext 118 or at elizabeth(at)fvpcoc(dot)org.