Sisterhood Blog

What Leads to Sexual Assault

By Elissa Strauss

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The sexual assault and attempted rape charges against I.M.F. chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn — he’s pleaded not guilty — got me thinking: What propels men who most certainly know better to engage in the type of morally repugnant behavior, such as that which the French politician stands accused?

How much is it a matter of class or race? His alleged victim, an immigrant from North Africa, is a chambermaid at a Manhattan hotel. And maids have long been vulnerable to sexual assault and intimidation due to the solitary nature of their work and the little respect the profession is given — due in part to it being “women’s work.” Though while race and class are no doubt part of the power hierarchy that propels one human to try to have his way with another, they don’t alone tell the whole story.

You see, Tristane Banon, a young journalist, novelist and daughter of a Socialist Party official, is also alleging that DSK attempted to rape her, back in 2002.

In a culture in which predatory sexual encounters and sexual assaults are so prevalent, what’s to blame?

The hyper-sexualization of women? (Think of the stripper-inspired culture that has been all-too-pervasive over the last decade.) The public silence of women? (Think of our reports on gender disparity in journalism or Hollywood, or women’s under-representation in Congress.) The fact that sexual violence is rampant in places like the Middle East and Africa and nobody seems able to do anything about it? (A recent report says there is one rape a minute in Congo. And the culture of misogyny in Egypt was made all-too-clear in the case of Lara Logan’s Tahrir Square attack.)

Is it that infidelity has become so commonplace for men in political power that sexual assault is the next step? I’m not sure. But what I do know is that while sexual assault is not tolerated, too many of the factors that lead up to it are.


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