Another powerful, famous man has been arrested for sexually assaulting someone way down the class/social ladder from him. This time he’s not an athlete, a movie director, or the founder of a major international website dedicated to leaking classified information. This time he’s the head of the International Monetary Fund and the possible future president of France, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who is accused of trapping an employee at a Midtown Manhattan hotel when she came to clean his room and forcing her to perform oral sex on him. She claims to have escaped after that.
Right now, I have a sensation of the quiet before the storm. The arrest happened over the weekend, out of the usual news cycle, and so the nearly inevitable firestorm hasn’t yet begun of victim-blaming, accusations against the victim for moral degeneracy and lying, feminists angrily denouncing victim-blaming, and calls for a much higher presumption of innocence than is offered for any other crime in the media. But for right now, it hasn’t yet started (and may not), so I’m just going to take a moment to highlight the incredible work of the New York police and the Manhattan Special Victims Unit. The accuser claims to have been raped early on Saturday afternoon, and by 4:30 p.m. on that day, the police had Strauss-Kahn in custody and in a line-up for the victim to pick him out. Speed matters in most criminal cases, but in rape it can be especially important, as detectives need to collect all the evidence before the cycle of victim-blaming and recriminations starts to contaminate the recollections of both the victim and any witnesses. Additionally, the swift arrest heightens the likelihood that the police will find physical evidence on Strauss-Kahn’s body, which they are currently trying to do.
Consider for a moment the vast gulf between the social stations of the accused and the accuser in this case. The accuser is a 32-year-old African immigrant who lives in the Bronx with her teenage daughter and works as a hotel maid. The accused is one of the most powerful men in the world and was staying in a hotel that charges more per night than a hotel maid in New York probably makes in a month. Despite this, the police took her accusations seriously and were able to apprehend Strauss-Kahn before he boarded a plane and got out of the city, even though the man who drove Strauss-Kahn to the airport told the New York Times that he was in a hot hurry to get out of the country. True, they were only able to pull off the arrest because the accused believed he left a cell phone behind at the hotel (more evidence he was in a hurry?), but that they were at the scene quickly enough to nab him demonstrates the seriousness with which they took the charge. I won’t be holding my breath that Strauss-Kahn’s tremendous advantages over his victim won’t permanently contaminate this case, making it nearly impossible to get to the bottom of it. But I want to take a moment to be glad that the cops got it right in this case and didn’t dilly-dally because of disinterest in protecting New York residents, no matter where they fall on the class ladder.