Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dominique Strauss Kahn vs Susan Estrich: Rape haunts victims forever

"I didn't wish to be the girl who had a problem with a politician for the rest of my life."

So said Tristane Banon, in explaining why she didn't file charges nine years ago against Socialist politician and current International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn. It was her mother, Anne Mansouret, also a Socialist politician, who advised her against it. As Mansouret recounted the conversation, she told her daughter:

"Listen, you know, if he had raped you, I wouldn't have any hesitation, but that wasn't the case. He sexually assaulted you; there wasn't any rape per se. So until the end of your life, you're going to have on your resume, you know, Tristane Banon is the girl who..."

I don't blame Mansouret in the least. Many parents have trouble when their children are sexually assaulted. When I was raped, my mother told me not to tell anyone or no man would have me. I didn't listen to the first part, but I am sure I internalized the second.

When my students or former students come to me asking whether they should file discrimination cases against powerful men who have harassed them or worse, I always tell them — as Mansouret did — that just because they are telling the truth does not mean they won't be branded as a troublemaker or worse. Fair warning.

But I also tell them that if they have the courage to do it (and no one has an obligation to be a hero after they've been victimized), they may end up saving the lives or sanity of the women who would come next, to whom he would do the same thing, even if they never know that, even the women, like Banon, who were allegedly assaulted years earlier.

There are some men who are only abusive once, or only abusive to one particular woman. But in my experience, that is the exception rather than the rule. Nothing comes out until the first woman speaks up, and then you just wait.

Banon is speaking out because a hotel maid in New York City did.

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