Just like that, most of America can move on from any concern about the very existence of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The former head of the International Monetary Fund is a free man, proclaiming his innocence. But what about our innocence? It still seems to be missing.
It was back in May that the man then expected to be the Socialist challenger to Nicolas Sarkozy in next year’s presidential election was accused of sexually assaulting a maid in a luxury hotel. He was arrested in New York — dramatically taken from his Air France plane at JFK airport. The case eventually unraveled for the prosecutors, as his accuser was caught making false statements; it ended up being dismissed.
The New York Times described
it thus: “All we know for sure is that they had a sexual moment. The physical evidence confirms that. But whether the encounter was forced or consensual, or something else entirely, remains a mystery. Right now, it’s not even clear if either of the two parties would benefit from a detailed exploration.”
Perhaps what little we now seem to know about the incident is best captured by Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute: It was “a totally weird and unsimplifiable episode.” She continues: “It’s odd how fickle public opinion and media templates are: It seems that now that the highly desirable topos of Third World female of color being abused by white male European has been discarded, DSK is portraying himself without any noticeable dissent as a vindicated innocent, as opposed to a squalid adulterer. That latter fact is just pushed out of sight, including, it would seem, by his beaming wife. It would have been satisfying to have had a full airing of the claims and counterclaims, but I’m not sure an adversarial testing of the truth would have been worth taxpayer expense. And probably a civil suit will settle out of court, so we won’t get a court battle there. Dommage.”
It is indeed a pity, but not because we’re voyeurs: It’s because this story never was and never will be simply about what happened between a man and a woman in a high-priced hotel, or even about a miscarriage of justice one way or another.
It’s hard to make a cut-and-dried women’s-rights issue out of this case because of the accuser’s credibility problem, though the sisterhood did have some words to say. “This miscarriage of justice exhibits all the hallmarks of a society that tolerates sexual violence by blaming and shaming the survivors — but the real shame belongs with the perpetrators and the prosecutors who allow them to walk off scot-free,” said National Organization for Women president Terry O’Neill.
It is, of course, not at all clear that that is what happened. And will NOW take some responsibility in this mess, for contributing to a culture in which men and women are always adversarial rather than complementary? In which sex is the ultimate expression of independence and power, rather than a beautiful, intimate, life-giving act of love and mutual respect and human dignity?
Whatever happened in that hotel room, it was not that.
The lesson of the story, according to Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers, is: “You can engage in inappropriate behavior, perhaps. But that is much different than a crime.”
You surely are free to be a cad and shouldn’t be prosecuted for it, but here’s where the lingering shame comes in.