French media names former IMF head’s alleged rape victim

I heard this snippet of information yesterday morning while I was pulling away from the Chick-Fil-A with my egg and cheese biscuit and made a note to myself to check up on this when I returned home later that day. Sure enough, the U.K.’s Daily Mail isreporting some outlets have named the 32-year-old woman and even her teenage daughter.

There are long diatribes on French websites about the life of the immigrant who had worked at the Sofitel in New York for three years and was known as quiet and serious. Paris Match mentions differing accounts of the alleged victim’s looks, recounting how lawyers for Strauss-Kahn were apparently surprised by how unattractive she is.

However, it reports that an Indian taxi driver contacted France Soir to disagree – insisting she was ‘very pretty, with large breasts and a beautiful bottom’. The site Slate.fr also named the woman, who is now under police protection after the IMF chief was charged with attempted rape, false imprisonment and sexual assault.

In a bizarre defence of the move, its co-founder Eric Leser claimed they had revealed it to protect the woman’s good name amid rumours swirling in France about her character. He said: ‘We have done this just [to stop] the conspiracy theory in France about this case and to stop the false accusation against the victim that she’s doing [this] for money or she’s a prostitute and things like that. ‘The story that we have published is proving that all of [these] theories are false. That’s our main reason.’ Several websites posted pictures of what they claim is the chamber maid, although others insisted it was not her.

It’s hard for me to understand, much less agree with, Leser’s claims by naming the victim would “protect” this woman’s good name amid the rumors about her character. Naming and shaming rape victims is NOT about protecting them; it’s about shaming the victims who report these sex crimes.

I find it fascinating–but not surprised–that Strauss-Kahn’s attorneys would admit to being “surprised” at how “unattractive” the chamber maid is. One of the myths about rape is that only beautiful women are raped; that men are so stunned and drawn into a woman’s beauty that they lose all control of their lust and thus cause men to rape. We all know how much hog wash that is…

Anyway, maybe this charade by some French media is a reflection of how embarrassed and frustrated some segments of French elite society feel about the news of a popular politician’s rape scandal. A BBC article indicated that 57 percent of people who responded to a poll thought Strauss-Kahn was a victim of a set up. French philosopher Bernard Henry Levy came to the defense of his friend in a May 16 article on his website. Of course, the opinion begins with the classic phrase “I really don’t know what happened…” He goes on to question why the chamber maid entered the room alone, which he claims is not the norm, and criticizes the American judicial system for treating Strauss-Kahn as a commoner. He also asserts the Strauss-Kahn he knows is not the “beast” the American press and the victim is making him out to be.

My response to Levy would be this: no one accused of rape is ever known to be a beast or monster by those who are close to him or her. In fact, most rapists are considered “normal,” have families, have decent jobs and are probably well respected and known in their communities. Rapists come in a wide variety of personalities and vary across the economic, social and political spectrum.

The reports I’ve read and heard about the victim is that she is a West African immigrant who came to the states to make a better life for herself and her daughter. Considering France’s (and Europe as a whole) hostility towards brown and black folks, it’s not surprising some of their media outlets would feel compelled to name the victim. Furthermore, rape culture teaches us that female people of color who are victims of sex crimes somehow deserved and consented to their body’s violation. One has to question if this were a white French woman who comes from a “respectable” economic and social background, would the French media have the desire to protect the victim’s identity? If this woman were part of the French elite, would the French people and media be so quick to protect a man of Strauss-Kahn’s stature?

No matter how embarrassed some French media outlets and elite individuals may feel about this bit of news, they should not let their sense of nationalistic pride overtake their objective assessment of this case. No victim of crime deserves to have his or her name and reputation dragged through the mud just because a media outlet holds some reservation about a victim’s story or feels some sort of allegiance against the accused.