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Reflections on the DSK & Nafissatou Diallo case: What we know about sexual assault & victim-blaming

August 1, 2011, 11:16 am — admin (Uncategorized)

The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault applauds the courageous victims of sexual assault who come forward to report the crime. Victim-blaming is a common defense tactic, viagra and the risk is greater when the case involves a famous or powerful person: This has been the experience of Nafissatou Diallo, store the Sofitel housekeeper who has accused former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her in his hotel room last May.

In this highly polarizing case, healing both Mr. Strauss-Kahn and Ms. Diallo have been tried and “convicted,” in a sense, by the international press. While the outcome of this high-profile case is in limbo, and we may never know the full details of what happened behind closed doors, here is what we do know about sexual assaults:

We know that victim blaming is practiced widely in our culture. While celebrity rape cases grab the headlines, many sexual violence crimes treat the victim as “suspect” because he/she dressed provocatively, drank alcohol or used drugs, engaged in some form of consensual sex prior to the attack, or did not put up a struggle. Defense attorneys routinely attack the credibility of a sexual assault victim by digging up any incriminating details from his/her past. This practice has a chilling effect on survivors. Victims of sexual violence are deeply ashamed, humiliated and fearful of scrutiny of their private life.  Many are afraid to report the crime for fear of being “put on trial.”

We know immigrant women are more vulnerable and at greater risk for victimization and exploitation by individuals in a position of power or authority, due to factors such immigration status, isolation, cultural and language barriers, as well as fear of, and uncertainty of seeking help from the police.

We know sexual assaults are crimes of violence and power, not of passion. The attacker’s motivation is to humiliate, debase and control the victim. Perpetrators often select victims whom they perceive as vulnerable or whom they have power over. In a workplace setting, the victim may not report the crime for fear of retaliation, fear of being blamed for the attack or fear losing her/his job.

We know there is no “normal way” to react to a sexual assault. Reactions vary significantly, and run the gamut from anger, withdrawal, hysteria, numbness and apathy. Some victims cope by resuming normal activities, such as going back to work, shopping, or even returning to the setting where they met their assailant.

We know false accusations are extremely rare. Victims of trauma commonly experience shock, numbing, and dissociation as well as effects on memory of details. As a result, it is not uncommon for a victim’s statement to contain inconsistencies and/or untrue statements. This, however, should not be confused with a false allegation. According to a study by the American Prosecutors Research Institute, false rape allegations account for 2 – 8% of all reported rapes.[1]

We know sexual assault is a public health crisis in the United States. One in six American women– and one in 33 men – has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.[2] Until we accept the prevalence, nature and scope of sexual violence, and stop placing blame on victims, sexual assault will remain the most underreported crime in the nation.

[1] Lonsway, Kimberly A., Joanne Archambault, and David Lisak. 2009 False Reports: Moving Beyond the Issue to Successfully Investigate and Prosecute Non-Stranger Sexual Assault. The Voice 3(1):1-11

[2] National Institute of Justice & Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey. 1998

About the Wikileaks/Michael Moore Fiasco

December 20, 2010, 1:42 pm — admin (Uncategorized)

For those of you unfamiliar with the ongoing Wikileaks (and now) Michael Moore rape accusation/conspiracy theory case, I’m re-posting a great overview created by a blogger (Miranda) on womensglib.

1. Julian Assange, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, has been accused of raping two Swedish women on different occasions. These two women have an apparently awesome lawyer, Claes Borgström, who says things like: “[my clients] are victims of a crime, but they are looked upon as the perpetrators and that is very unfortunate.” Assange has a lawyer, Mark Stephens, who says things like: “The honeytrap has been sprung. Dark forces are at work. After what we’ve seen so far you can reasonably conclude this is part of a greater plan.” Because of these accusations, Assange has been arrested and held in a London jail. But he has been released on bail and appears dedicated to avoiding fair and rigorous prosecution for these alleged rapes.

2. Keith Olbermann talks about Assange’s legal troubles on his show. Olbermann invites Michael Moore to comment on Assange’s legal troubles on his show, specifically why Moore chose to donate $20,000 to Assange’s bail. Moore tells us that he donated such a sum because he believes WikiLeaks’ works is essential for a “free and open society,” because supporting WikiLeaks is “an act of patriotism.” Oh, and because the rape allegations are “a lie and a smear,” “all a bunch of hooey.” Oh, and also: because the allegations of rape are actually allegations that “his condom broke during consensual sex, which is not a crime.” Not a crime, true. Also not the accusation. (But here’s the thing: respecting WikiLeaks as a mechanism for ensuring “a free and open society” does not prevent us from getting to the bottom of the accusations against Assange. We can admire the principles of an organization while still questioning the ethics of their frontman. Really. We are old enough to walk and chew gum, here.)

Really, what more can add to this overview?

Not much!

One more thing I’ll leave you with from the post at womensglib:

But what I really want to emphasize is this:  Olbermann and Moore have a really incredible opportunity right in front of them, an opportunity begging to be taken. They have the opportunity to apologize. Because being a good progressive? Is all about [messing] up.

The bloggers at womensglib and progressives across the country have been taking part in a twitter campaign. If you want to take part, send a message to @MMFlint and/or  @KeithOlbermann and tell them why you think it’s important that public figures and members of the media refuse to obfuscate this issue.  Having consent before/during/at all points during a sexual encounter is a big deal. Acting as if non-consensual sex is “a bunch of hooey”  is incredibly demeaning and dangerous.  Survivors of sexual assault deserve more respect, and potential rapists deserve to receive a fair trial as guaranteed by law. Right now, I don’t see much of that respect, but I do see a man having to address his possible crimes with just legal repercussions.

False Reporting in the Media (Again): Why it’s such a problem

December 16, 2010, 1:55 pm — admin (Uncategorized)

This morning I was saddened to see 10 Google alerts and a lead article on People.com regarding the arrest of a New York City-based TV weatherwoman. An occasional contributor on Good Morning America, Heidi Jones, was recently suspended from her job after being charged by city police with filing a false attempted rape report.

The headlines ranged from: “TV Weatherwoman Charged with Lying About Attempted Rape” (People.com), to “Cops: NYC Meteorologist Lied About Rape” (Fox News) but the stories themselves all told the same story:

“Jones claimed a man attacked her while she was jogging on Sept. 24 and dragged her into a wooded area, only to flee when tourists approached. The same man approached her in the park two months later, Jones told police.  Police soon began to doubt her story, and Jones later admitted she made it up because she was having problems in her relationship and thought it would gain her sympathy.” (People.com)

As you can imagine, the response from online commentators and journalist has run the gamut from outrage to barely-concealed excitement.

Because really, what’s more new-worthy and ‘sexy’ than a very public false report rape story?

The problem with all of the attention and excitement is that it detracts from a very real and dangerous issue: the propagation of the myth that women frequently file false rape reports.

In fact, according to various law enforcement databases and research studies I only 2% of rape reports are later found to be false. Other studies have found false report rates of up to 5.6%–but the range of 2-6% corresponds to false report rates for other major crimes such as burglary.

Another important point brought up by a doctoral candidate and researcher at American University is that:

“A primary myth about false rape reports focuses on the belief that women “cry rape” because they are seeking revenge on men who have wronged them in some way. However, according to [studies], the reality is that the vast majority of false allegations “are actually filed by people with serious psychological and emotional problems.” And notably, people who falsely file claims usually do not name specific individuals, but instead “involve only a vaguely described stranger.” These research findings support the theory that people who falsely allege rape do so not out of  desire for revenge against a specific person, but because they seek general attention and sympathy.”

Sounds pretty familiar, right?

Ms. Jones admitted that she made up the assault because she was “having problems in her relationship and was seeking sympathy.” So really what we have here is a individual woman who is likely suffering from psychological and emotional problems.

One woman does not an epidemic of false reports make.

Yet the media attention to this case is likely to be prolonged and unsympathetic. And according to research, this type of unwarranted attention on false rape reports can be very damaging.

“Print media portrayals of rape that are not representative in the aggregate of the circumstances in which rape typically occurs may do little more than reinforce stereotypical notions of what constitutes “real rape.” The types of rape reported in the media tend to be those that have features that are in keeping with the classic stereotype of rape. Media stories may also be presented in such a way as to suggest that the victim precipitated the attack or is making a false allegation.

The same researchers also concluded that the reliance on rape stereotypes and rape myths in media coverage can ultimately have a chilling effect on report rates, prosecution, and conviction rates. They caution that:

“Stereotypical notions of rape have been found to negatively impact rape prosecution. The negative portrayal of both male and female rape victims in the press may have an adverse impact on whether such crimes are subsequently reported to the police. [Ultimately] newspaper articles that frame rape victims’ behaviour in a negative manner may reinforce rape myths and fuel public misconceptions of sex crimes, which in turn may have a negative consequences for a victim’s self-conceptions of his or her experience and the criminal justice’s response to sex crimes.”

While it’s obviously very upsetting to learn that Ms. Jones likely fabricated and then falsely reported an attack, I think it’s clear that the media attention is damaging to both victims and the general public. I think it’s a shame that we expect so little from the media; instead of framing this story in a way that addresses rape myths and the rarity  of false reports, this rather salacious approach is likely doing real harm.

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Blog posts are the responsibility of their authors, and do not reflect the opinions of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault.

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