Thursday, July 7, 2011

Strauss-Khan Accuser: Victim of Broken Systems

Eva Rivera is a proud lesbian Chicana, daughter, sister and sex worker who can walk in 6 inch heels and twirl naked on a pole in front of total strangers but is still viciously afraid of moths. She hails from Fresno, CA and is a poet and aspiring film maker. You can find her more personal writing on her blog.  

By now, most of us are familiar with the case of the hotel housekeeper who was allegedly sexually assaulted by former IMF head, Dominique Strauss-Khan. What struck me was that so many journalists are writing as if the case is already closed. In their fantasy world, Strauss-Khan walks away innocent and manages to salvage his political career, while they pat themselves on the back over the American Justice System for taking the word of an immigrant housekeeper seriously. Win-win. They are able to fabricate this fantasy based on all the claims that the housekeeper is no longer a credible victim. While the media is busy dissecting the validity of the accusers words, they miss an opportunity to be critical of the broken systems that created this supposed lack of credibility. Whether or not you believe the housekeeper, I feel like we overlook the systemic fails that were exposed in the process.

I assumed that it was common sense but it bears repeating: you can still be a victim of rape if you lied in the past. You can even be raped if you supposedly have ties to a drug dealer. Or if you might have been a sex worker.

The housekeeper is not only (likely) a victim of sexual assault, a racist/classist/xenophobic media, but a victim of several broken systems as well. In this time of anti-immigrant sentiment, her position is that of a witch in a witch hunt. Already there are calls to deport her. What is overlooked is the difficulty of being granted asylum and the stress of being deported back to a homeland where she was raped (she did tell investigators that she was raped, just not in the way she described in her application) and where her husband was killed. No matter the reason for her migration, she is facing a broken immigration system and a media that sensationalizes it.  It's one thing to bring up her immigration status, although irrelevant to a sexual assault case, but it's another to build arguments from it which are used as reasons not to believe her. She is essentially being made an example of. Just skim the comments sections of these articles and you see immigrant-bashing as a common thread.

One of the most "shocking discoveries" highlighted in the media is the phone call she made to her fiancé in jail. Most people are shocked that the conversation included talk of financial gain from this situation. Sure, this might imply that she's a gold digging liar, who set DSK up to take him for all he's got. Or, she could be someone who wouldn't mind gaining at least a little financial cushion for having to go through this bullshit in the first place. I guess it was the casual way in which she discussed the issue. If she had gone the proper and respectable American route, of simply suing him for medical bills and personal distress, it would've seemed totally okay and normal. I don't know about you (and perhaps my experience is different coming from a working class background), but if I am involved in a criminal case where I suffered physical pain and distress, I'm thinking about financial gain along with a million other issues that might be running through my head.

When I heard of her being accused of prostitution, and the possibility of DSK merely being a trick, I was worried. I figured, if this was true, the case for sure would be thrown out. Prostitutes can't be raped, remember? As it turns out, she is suing the New York Post for defamation, asserting that the accusation of prostitution was a lie to further damage her credibility. I was frustrated to hear that. Not that she should take on an extra burden if it isn't true, but that we are still so obviously in a place where people believe that an escort is so morally tarnished, she can't be raped, or she had it coming. If she is an escort, she must sue for defamation to avoid having her case fall apart completely. She can't come out.
We could go through every detail of her *flaws*, but the point isn't necessarily about her or the case. It's about the kind of culture we live in, that would target those so-called flaws, and focus on those as the reason for throwing out the case in the first place. Even if Strauss-Khan is found innocent, he still benefits from a culture that puts immigrants, poor people, and sex workers on trial, even as they are victims.