There’s a catchy tune from one of those fluffy musicals popular in the ’20s and ’30s that went though my head as I heard that the charges for attempted rape were to be dropped against Dominic Strauss-Kahn on grounds that the encounter was consensual: “She didn’t say yes; she didn’t say no. She didn’t say stay; she didn’t say go.”
That ditty seems fitting as a determination for consent, being the ancient, mossy old answer to a woman’s claim of a sexual attack. By her dress, her actions, by the very sexual aura that defines her as a woman to a man, she enticed him. In the vernacular, she asked for it.
It would seem in a contest of he-said, she-said, it is only necessary for the man to deny the charge; however, the woman must prove her accusation. It also appears the prosecutors have tried her case themselves, determining without judge or jury that she is lying. On the other hand, Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s well-documented history of sexual harassment of other young women in the past is inadmissible information.
The fact that the woman bringing the charges is poor, new to this country, and has limited command of our language or justice system is also of little import. A tapped phone conversation in Fulani is offered as intention of entrapment; finding lies on an application for asylum, which are common, is further evidence of her evil nature.
For me, the question of who is telling the truth boils down to this: If the encounter in that expensive suite was consensual, either hotel maids — complete with mop, pail, fresh towels and toilet paper, after cleaning several messy rooms — still vibrate with lustful intentions toward middle-aged guests upon encountering them by surprise exiting hotel bathrooms, or Mr. Strauss-Kahn, despite his well-documented prowess as a lover, has been reduced to soliciting the maid and, horror of horrors, paying for her favors.
Servants fair game
Servants throughout history have ever been seen as fair game by powerful, privileged men. The tales of their undoing are legion throughout time, as are the occasions of men in positions of influence using that power to press themselves upon women whose livelihood depends on their sexual compliance. But most of all, the knee-jerk explanation that a sexual attack by a man was inevitable by the very proximity of a female presence, as a temptation too strong to be ignored, is so old it must have been invented by that cliché: the club-wielding caveman.
Clearly in the end, the dismissal of rape charges without this working woman’s chance at a day in court is in the tradition of an even older tale of those with money and influence being able to use those resources to discredit and disarm another lacking money or influence. At the outset, Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers stated their intentions — to prove her aims of seduction, then entrapment. And by using their considerable investigative resources, they succeeded in raising doubt. Enough doubt to cause the district attorney to turn tail and run lest he lose his proposed trial looking foolish, or worse, not winning his next election.
The resolution of this whole affair resonates with many women in a manner that many men may find difficult to understand — not used to having themselves defined from an early age as temptress by the very existence of their attraction to men. And it is men, even in this age of supposed sexual equality, who need to get it together, recognizing their own innate nature, which often finds women a provoking distraction, a sexual presence that disturbs, even when that disturbance is unwelcome. Women do find men alluring as well, but not usually to the extent of providing an attack. And not all men are potential rapists.
Nevertheless, in a clear case of blame the victim, all women have lost on this one. With this dismissal, we seem to have regressed, quite near to reviving the old rules for a rape conviction: The woman must produce a disinterested witness.
Barbara DeMille lives in Rensselaerville. She is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.