Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the IMF, is currently in a Rikers Island cell awaiting his next court date after being accused of rape by a 32-year-old maid in the Sofitel hotel near Times Square, where Strauss-Kahn was staying last weekend. Since the dramatic arrest, the media whirlwind has included the now-ubiquitous images of the potential French president handcuffed and being transported by police. But today, the French media was warned not to show such pictures because under French law, airing any image of someone restrained is illegal until they’ve been convicted, in an attempt to preserve presumed innocence, the Wall Street Journal reports. What’s not frowned upon, though, as it is in the United States, is publishing the name of the alleged victim, whose life and family are now up for scrutiny in the French press (and on the internet). More inside Press Clips, our daily media column.
Victimization: “France’s broadcasting watchdog called on the country’s television channels to use restraint in showing footage of International Monetary Fund managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn in handcuffs,” the Journal reports, “highlighting Europe’s increasingly cautious reaction to the arrest and detention of the man until recently seen as a favorite to become France’s next president.”
Meanwhile, Slate’s French edition and other news websites from France, such as Le Nouvel Observateur are publishing as much information about the woman as possible, including not only her full name, but the names of family members, her nationality, and more.
In the American media, with cases such as in the NYPD rape trial currently coming to a close, these details are handled sensitively, and anonymity is usually respected. This morning the Times noted a bit about Strauss-Kahn’s accuser including that she lives in the Bronx and is “friendly” and “a good person.”
Even that rubbed some people wrong, like Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, not usually our favorite commentator, who writes sharply on “The Danger of Outing Alleged Rape Victims Through Reporting”:
I don’t understand reporting like this. What is the point? Does it matter that she is friendly? Does it matter that she is a good person? Does it matter that she has never been a problem? Of course not. Rape is rape. The character of the victim is irrelevant.
He notes that if she had a history of “false accusations,” that would be different, but that in general, “Reporters should think twice about visiting the neighborhood of an alleged rape victim in order to ask questions about her life and character. The unintended consequence of such a visit is to publicize, in the place where she lives, her plight, and raise possibly-destructive questions about her situation.”
Though Weisberg responded that the French site has “independent editorial judgements” and that he hasn’t “sort out [his] view on publishing the name,” he did maintain that the “social and economic context of [a] Guinean immigrant victim” are important to understanding the story. “How can you hope to understand what happened and what it means if you don’t know what world the alleged victim comes from?” he asked.
Carmon countered that even “if it’s French convention, it’s an American site, and there are reasons beyond convention here.”
“They didn’t know each other,” she wrote of Strauss-Kahn and the victim. “By all accounts, the only context we need is what happened when she walked in the door doing her job.”
A similar journalistic conversation surfaced in the case of Julian Assange’s Swedish accusers. While the writer Naomi Wolf argued that victims should not be allowed to remain anonymous, Katha Pollit of The Nation countered:
[T]he Victorian code that shamed rape victims is with us today … it’s just that to the stereotypes of the sullied virgin and chaste wife have been added the crazy lying slut, the cocktease, and the repressed frump who secretly “wants it.”
Ms. magazine put it this way:
Equity — as distinguished from equality — is not about infantilizing a group of people and patting them on their heads: Equity is for grownups, based on the idea that in order to achieve a fair and just society, you have to account for the fact that some groups of people are oppressed, disadvantaged, and do not have the same access to, say, bodily integrity, justice, or safety that other groups of people have.
What Wolf is suggesting is a gender-blind policy which treats rape the same as any other crimes. But as we know from current research, color-blind ideology only perpetuates racial oppression by ignoring differences, it doesn’t end the oppression.
In the case of Strauss-Kahn, in which an African immigrant’s word is pitted against that of one of the world’s most powerful men, this concept of anonymity-as-equity should be more obvious than ever.
And some recommended reading elsewhere in the media world…
Monster Matt: David Carr’s recent column “How Drudge Has Stayed on Top” gets a cutting retort from Will Bunch who has an alternate, or more detailed, explanation: “Pandering on race, right-wing paranoia.”