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.
A friend commented about the case: “I am gathering he’s a pig. I am gathering she is not fully credible. It reminds me a little of the Duke case. The woman was a disaster, as was the prosecution, and a pox on all of them. But very much forgotten was the boys’ behavior: Nobody, or too few, pointed out the frat-house ethics they were engaging in, hiring strippers to come over, etc. I lived a pretty raucous college lifestyle — in many ways, it’s a miracle I survived, and survived without any law problems. But I certainly never even thought of hiring strippers to come over.” I realize that when Midwestern housewives are bringing stripper poles into their family homes, what’s inappropriate may be up for grabs. But that is part of the story. God help any woman who is raped, and God help any man who is falsely accused of rape. But God help, too, anyone who isn’t creeped out by the lawyerly takeaway.
And sticking to war-of-the-sexes and class-warfare talking points does not serve justice either.
Harvey Mansfield, a professor of government at Harvard and the author of Manliness, points to the good news — and it’s not that Strauss-Kahn is innocent and headed back to his old workplace for a visit. It is, rather, that even though we are jaded, and fed on a daily diet of relativism, our capacity for outrage is not dead yet. Mansfield wrote earlier in the saga that “old-fashioned home truths” were vindicated in the response to the initial accusations. Maybe this is true, too, in the lingering sense that something good did not happen here, whatever happened.
New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg doesn’t work too far from that courtroom where the charges against DSK were dropped. From his office in City Hall, he has mandated a sex-ed curriculum in city public schools that, as a detailed report from the World Youth Alliance demonstrates, is utterly incoherent. Ultimately, the goal in approaching the subject of sexual expression at a young age is to help teenagers avoid “the exchange of body fluids,” as one of the recommended resources puts it. I suppose that advice would have helped DSK at his Sofitel suite, but it doesn’t quite cut it. We want and need more — to do our human dignity justice.
Mansfield tells me that, if he had to write his spring assessment of the DSK case all over again, he would add honesty to the list of moral truths that do have some sway over us, even in our weaknesses, even in our incoherence. We might consider honesty in deciding how we educate our most innocent on matters of men and women and sex now, too.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through United Media.